Monday, April 30, 2018

Zen and the Art of Life

This last "temping top ten list" for the A-Z blogging challenge is a wonderfully fitting end, a compilation of 10 ways that I have found to live life in a fulfilling way (reposted from 2012).

When I was in college, I had a friend give me a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a philosophical journey by Robert Pirsig, and that book made me take a really long, thoughtful look at life - what was really important to me, what defines a quality life.

The "zen" in the title does not refer to specifically to Zen Buddhism, but rather to general philosophy of living life "in the moment", versus an approach to rational analysis and planning (the maintenance part of the title). A quality life is a balance between the two approaches, but in the end, the author acknowledges that quality is basically undefinable and we each must find our own path. 
I wonder if that's why pictures of paths always appeal to me, like this one.

Since then, there have been many other influences on my outlook on life, some of which I have listed below.  I also recognize that everyone's path is different.In fact, I love to read about other people's ways or discoveries along the path of life, so after reading my list, please share a thing or two you've learned on your path to life.

10. Life can be ridiculously complicated, if you let it. Simplify. Here's a short, sweet post from Zen Habits on how to start simplifying your life. This gives you more time for the essentials - the people you love, the passions you want to pursue.

9. De-clutter. I will never be an extreme minimalist, because homes filled with beloved things: there is something so homey about them. But I've also discovered that de-cluttering (I spend about an hour a week working on this) brings me such a massive feeling of accomplishment and organization in comparison to the relatively small amount of time it takes. I also believe that materialism - accumulating more and more things -  just breeds discontentment.

8. Resist impulse spending and instant gratification. Waiting has its own wonderful reward, and even better, here's a great post how to overcome the apparent contradiction between enjoying life NOW and avoiding instant gratification.

7. Put things in perspective. All that stuff that is stressing you out right now - it probably won't matter in 5 years from now, let alone 15.

6. Make mistakes, don't fear failure, don't beat yourself up if you mess up. Our mistakes teach us, and grow us in ways our successes never can.

5. Keep learning. Always keep learning new things - technical things, artistic things, new words, new languages - even trivia. It keeps us young and wise at the same time.

4. Seek creativity, even in the ordinary everyday tasks. A short, sweet guide to creativity.

3. Enjoy each moment. Continued happiness and fulfillment is in the little things, not the big things. Especially with your kids.

2. Love deeply and unconditionally and always, always forgive (a post from Zen Habits on forgiveness).  Forgiving another person when they don't deserve it is the hardest things in the world, but the secret to happiness in life (along with #3). 

1. You can't do this alone. We're not strong enough 100% of the time, or even 80%, to tackle life and wrestle the best of out it. Even scarier, if you lived for very long in this life, you discover that people always let you down in some way. So how do you reconcile this problem?

The miraculous thing I discovered is that there is a God who never lever lets you down, who is always there for you, who even died for you - and even better, conquered death and came back to life so that we can too. I don't believe in forcing my religion on anyone, but by golly if I've found something wonderful, I can't help but to share it. I've been a follower of Jesus since I was 23 years old, even though I don't follow very well and am always getting lost. He still stays with me, every step of the way.

Again, everyone's path through life is different, and I can't wait to hear what other wonderful ways you guys have found to enrich your lives. Please share!!!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Devastated but not destroyed

My 8 year old daughter, one of my twin girls, was killed in a freak accident on June 4 this year, exactly a month after I lost my father.

I was at work when my husband took our four girls riding (I would have loved to join them. Horses are our family thing. All six of us ride and love horses, love them deeply). The horse my daughter was riding started acting up on her. This was a horse owned by another family that are close friends of ours; my husband had trained the horse, we had both ridden him and felt he was safe for our daughter to ride, with help, as she's still inexperienced. Her dad was helping her teach the horse to "yield" when he started tossing his head and hopping. My husband let go of the horse's head and backed off, taking the pressure off the horse. Instead of calming, as he normally did, the horse reared, slipped, and went over backwards, crushing my daughter instantly. My husband and two of my daughters witnessed the accident up close. She was at a hospital within six minutes, but they were unable to save her.

Our family has been surrounded by a tremendous outpouring of love, care, and financial, physical, mental and spiritual support. Many a night when it's time to tuck my three girls into bed and the tears threaten to turn into sobs of agony because of the fourth girl who should be there and isn't, one friend or family member or another has texted me encouragement and scripture right when I needed it most.

I've been living on prayers.

I haven't been able to imagine writing again, especially since the story that I've poured my heart into the past few years was a story about twin girls, one of whom was supposedly killed in a freak accident. In my story, her sister finds her twin and rescues her.

If only that could be true in real life.

To our amazement, my husband's and mine, our girls wanted to keep their horses and continue to ride them, and even show them in fair. (The horse my daughter was riding has since been sold to professionals who are watching him closely to see if there is any more dangerous behavior).

Friends lent us their very well trained Shetland pony for my other 8 year old daughter to ride, and she also fell in love with a miniature horse, Buttercup, that has been a great source of both smiles and comfort to us.

My 11 year old rode her horse Tuffy in the trail course at fair, and my 13 year old rode her horse Spring in all her usual events. She not only won first place in the barrel race and pole bending race, but had the fastest overall time, even faster than high school senior riders... and she's going on to compete in state fair.

The three girls also put together their own "Ride to Music" program for fair, which is where you pick a song and theme and design your own riding patterns and costumes. They rode in memory of their sister and their costumes were designed after their sister's favorite things:  horses, dogs, unicorns, Pegasus, Pokemon, Minecraft, and butterflies.

The girls didn't do as well as they had hoped in many of the events in fair. They hadn't had time to practice much this summer, for a very painful reason. But they stuck with it, and learned good sportsmanship, and in the process I found I could start to breathe again, I could start to live again.

I haven't been keeping a journal, just short notes, incomplete sentences, bursts of bitterness, anger, agony. But also memories of my little girl that I don't want to forget. Moments when my girls made me smile. Drops here and there of hope, fragments of the painful but powerful talks my husband and I have had, my mother and I, my friends and I.

Slowly these tiny notes have been expanding. Full sentences. Paragraphs. I am writing again.

My life was changed in an instant. My heart was crushed along with my daughter's, except I was forced to keep living. For weeks it was hard to even breath. I cried out to God, Why? He gave no answer. I begged him. I doubted him. One moment I believe with all my heart that she's safe in heaven, and I'll see her again someday, and the next I'm tempted to believe it's just random madness in a random, hateful world where terrible things happen everyday.

Finally a few days ago, God answered me. Romans 8:32 says "He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all."  My daughter was not spared. God did not spare his own son. But the hope of Jesus is that he went through death, and rose again, to give us hope of resurrection, of eternal life.

I am going through the worst possible trial a parent can have, but I find strength and comfort along the way, and courage to share my faith. Thank you for letting me share.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Insecure writer: changing point of view

Right now with my writing I'm debating which point of view to use in my next project, after I've heard rumbling from several different places (such as Authoress at the Miss Snark's First Victim blog) that the publishing industry is getting tired of first person present tense. A famous example from a book that probably influenced a lot of writers in recent years to choose this tense (including myself):

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas over the mattress.

Authoress says she might rewrite her entire work-in-progress from first person present into third person past tense. Wow! Re-writing an entire book to change tense?

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Ironically, at the same time I'm hearing this talk about how first present tense (made famous in Young Adult by The Hunger Games) is no longer in vogue, I started reading Dodie Smith's coming of age book, I Capture the Castle, written in 1948.

And written in first person present tense! (In the form of journal entries). And here I thought this point of view was a fairly recent innovation.  But it shows that no matter the time period or current trends in publishing, a really good story will trump anything.
I Capture the Castle
I think it's a good exercise to play with different points of view when you are getting started with a new story, finding which one is the perfect "fit" for your characters and the style of the book. I've never really given much thought to which tense I use: for my last story, I just jumped right into first person present tense instead of picking what was the most natural fit for my story, I was reading a lot of present tense in other books at that time. To be honest, all my most favorite books are written in third person past. (Though now that I've fallen in love with I Capture the Castle in present tense, I wonder....)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My favorite summer vacation spot

This post is making me misty eyed, because I haven't been to my favorite summer vacation spot for over 30 years, but my memories are as vivid of Chippawa Lodge as much more recent vacation spots. I think there's just something about your childhood favorites that stick with you. One of my greatest wishes is to go back and stay in one of the cabins along Lake Kamaninskeg in northern Ontario, and swim along the beautiful white beach.
We spent a week every summer along this lake from when I was 4 to 12 years old (we stopped coming when the management no longer allowed guests to bring their pets: that was one of the special things about this resort is that you could bring your dogs; we even brought our cat along!). I swam for hours a day, or kayaked, or went sailing on our little sailboat that we hauled up every year. One of my favorite memories is fishing with my dad, except one time I didn't catch a fish, I managed to hook a giant snapping turtle that terrified me when my dad helped me pull it up on shore!

Another favorite memory was swinging on the "Tarzan rope" off a tree into the river. It would take me a long time to work up the nerve to jump!
Here's a picture of little me with my kayak. 
I could go on and on about this place (the pony, the sunken steamship, picking berries, picking wildflowers, the scent of sun-warmed pines...) but I think the best way for me to revel in great memories is to somehow work them into one of my stories one day. 

Many thanks to Lexa Cain and her co-hosts for dreaming up this blog hop and now I'm off to visit more wonderful summer vacation spots!

"My Favorite Summer Vacation Spot" Blog Hop is sponsored by Summer Reads that Thrill & Chill!
For the Linky List and Book Giveaways visit the 6 Co-Hosts:
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