Filling the Pen: A Ritual ~ #SOL 2021

Once nestled in my writing chair to scribe a few words for the day, a quick check of the pen to be sure the cartridge is fully loaded with ink is necessary. There’s nothing quite as tragic as being wrapped up in the flow of writing and, all of a sudden, the ink decides it’s done for the day. I try to prevent this drama at all costs.

I choose the color of hydrangea for my ink this morning, feeling the warm spring energy of the day. A shade of blue “reminiscent of the image of raindrops nestling on its petals”.  My giddiness welcomes this change from vintage brown to this fresh color in my notebook. 

The glass container which houses this ink is a work of art in itself. Heavy and solid with a slight dip downward at the bottom of the jar – intended for the tip of the nib to drink up ink with ease. Every time I refill my pen, I gaze in awe at this ingenious idea. I often wonder if the bottle is perhaps worth more than the ink it holds and what might I do with the bottle when my ink runs dry? Is there a place I can send empty bottles to and just purchase refills? I’ll need to look into this one day.

A candle is lit and a string of ivory lights around the perimeter of my sanctuary window offer just enough glow to provide light to perform this ritual. There is something about doing this work in the edge of time when the moon waves goodbye to morning dawn as if signaling the night shift is over. The switching on of lamps would disrupt this moment.

I hold the jar steady in my left hand as I ever so slowly and delicately twist off the cap. I envision a nightmare of accidentally dropping the bottle of ink and watching it spill in horror all over my beloved chair and blankets – ruining all forever. My mother would be mortified watching me. A wise person would not fill their pen sitting in an overstuffed chair wrapped in a blanket. They would be at the desk with protective paper underneath. My husband tells me that I’m not the daring kind, but he should see in the morning, filling my pen.

Turning the cap on it’s second twist, a flash of insight arrives. My newfound love of fountain penning has slowed me down – even more than the act of writing itself. All my attention must remain on the filling of this pen. The removal of the barrel, the dipping of the nib into the ink. The slow twist of the cartridge, first to the left to empty remaining ink and air out of the pen, and then ever so gently, a half rotation twist at a time, to the right, to suction the ink up into the cartridge. One jerky slip and catastrophe ruins the whole process.

This act of preparation settles my mind and gives whispers to the writing angels that she’s getting ready. . .

I admire the filled cartridge before sliding the barrel back on, imagining all the pages this single cartridge of ink will fill. How many new discoveries will appear from the letters strung together? Will this ink scribe words of gratitude, angst, or just capture the inner and outer goings on around me? Such mystery it holds!

I decide to give the ink a blessing.

Oh blessed ink. May you only write words of praise for the greater good – words that create community and channel love and compassion into the world. 

Well. . . this was a surprise revelation. Perhaps if I’d been blessing my pen and ink all along, I’d have more productive writing days. 🙂

I am participating in the 14th Annual SOL 2021 March challenge. For 31 days, I will attempt to write and share a small slice of life from my days. If you’d like to read more of today’s slices from other teacher-writers, please head over to twowritingteachers, who have also committed to this challenge. When teachers write themselves, they are able to draw from their inner curriculum they have shaped for themselves in which to model and teach their students. But, more than this, as human beings, we also cultivate a writing practice that can be a buoy and and an anchor in the turbulent waters of our lives.

Warming The Writing Space ~ #SOL 2021

My writing sanctuary above our garage was quite chilly this morning, the heat turned excessively down at night. I turn the electric heat dial to high in an effort to bring warmth quickly, before my fingers numb. A small electric fireplace in the corner across from me assists the main heat while also offering a background hum and a warm comforting glow. 

Grateful for the warmer temps, with highs predicted in the 20’s, means my sanctuary becomes my writing-reading-playing-workroom. When the Minnesota lows hover around -20 below zero, I must migrate to a writing location inside the house as even with all the heat power my writing room has, it refuses to warm my midlife bones. My husband also complains about the electric bill when I’m up here in frigid, cold weather. 

Usually, I don’t listen to this nonsense, but when I know he is more right than not, I bail.

On these chilly days, I tend to write in my overstuffed chair parked next to my bookshelves and wrap myself in blankets, rather than sit at my desk. I have two down blankets that envelope me on mornings such as this, both gifted to me from my husband who spotted them on super clearance, because he knows I’m always cold. They are perfect for cocooning in. Not quite bed size – more lap sized – a fuzzy imitation fur on one side, and the outer shell, well . . . nylon, but in a warm woodsy print.

Now at first, when he presented this gift to me, I was quite perplexed. Why would a company use a nylon fabric for this outer shell? It’s cold to the touch and it tends to slide down my shoulders when I am using it. It took me a while to warm up to it because I am a slow warmer-upper to sensory kinds of things. I had to force myself to use it, repetitively, in order to acclimate to it because it was a gift from my husband and his feelings might get hurt if he sees me not using his gifts to me. And, I can’t risk not receiving more gifts.

After a time, however, I realized it’s advantage. We have a yellow lab, named Ella, who roams our house and lounges on the furniture. These nylon blankets are the only blankets we have not attracted to all of her dog hair. 

Frankly, this is the only reason I can find for the advantage of the nylon. I suppose it might be beneficial in the rain.

In a perfect world, the shell would be heavy flannel.

But, I carry onward as best I can. . . knowing my spoilage. . .

Well, I certainly didn’t know this Warming of the Writing Room would be the first entry I would pen for the Slice of Life this year. This tending to the heat has become a necessity ritual in the creating of conditions for writing each day. 

The ink in my pen now thawed, my breath calm, my heart open.

I welcome in new words for the day.

I am participating in the 14th Annual SOL 2021 March challenge. For 31 days, I will attempt to write and share a small slice of life from my days. If you’d like to read more of today’s slices from other teacher-writers, please head over to twowritingteachers, who have also committed to this challenge. When teachers write themselves, they are able to draw from their inner curriculum they have shaped for themselves in which to model and teach their students. But, more than this, as human beings, we also cultivate a writing practice that can be a buoy and and an anchor in the turbulent waters of our lives.

February Confusion ~ Poetry Friday

When February rolls around, teachers feel the pressures of the days. 
And, such a short month we're given to squeeze it all in. 
I often wonder what our students think. This poem came from those wonders.

February Confusion

It’s Black History month
my teachers say
Ground hog’s day
I love to read 
Love and hearts and 
Random acts of kindness
and a day to celebrate 
our presidents
Also, the biggest football 
game of the year

But, I’m so confused.
My teacher also said
that one day not so long ago
Blacks were not allowed to read
and presidents owned slaves
And, I found on the internet 
the groundhog is right 
less than half the time.

My teacher also taught us
about racism and stereotypes
and said how far we’ve come. . . but
I saw white Chief fans dressed up 
as Native Americans
painting their faces red
beating on drums
Chanting and singing
and the Tomahawk chop. . .

Be kind I keep hearing
Make it random
We write letters
and give cards with hearts
to our friends
This makes us all feel good
inside the walls of our classroom

I don’t know how to 
wrap up this poem
Something is missing
and I’m not sure what it is

But things are not all
what they say it is

©Shari Lynn Daniels 2021 (draft)

I'm participating in Poetry Friday where others who are sharing and writing poetry come to gather. You can find more poems to read this week here at the site of Molly Hogan, who is hosting Poetry Friday this week. 

Forgetting Fears ~ A Poem

Already I’ve forgotten
what your smile looks like
crinkled cheeks and gentle warmth

Wear a mask

My arms no longer
reach out
to embrace

Keep your distance 

Avoiding eye contact
puts more space
between us

Keep safe

It’s only for a few months
they said in March
The calendar says
nearly a year has passed by

What will happen
if we forget
what we’ve been
forbidden
to do?

I’m participating in Poetry Friday where others who are sharing and writing poetry come to gather. You can find more poems to read this week here at the site of Jone Rush MacCulluch, who is hosting Poetry Friday this week.  

The Magic at the Black Barn

Reaching to turn on the lamp by my bedside this morning, my eyes rested on this delightful stuffed sheep that was purchased the day before. I’d forgotten that I placed her there before crawling into bed. A warm smile she gave to me as a first taste of this new day. 

“Why, good morning, Dear Friend!” I greeted her. And, some giggles followed as the 6 year old girl in me emerged.

Let me tell you how she came to be. It’s a sweet story.

In the middle of a long Saturday afternoon at home, there was a need to get out, to somewhere, anywhere, to be awed and delighted in seeing something new. My eyes were bored of all the sameness around here. I messaged my daughter and asked her if she wanted to take a ride out to The Black Barn. Facebook announced, they were open this weekend with fresh inventory. Spring Stock. This might be the medicine to revive me.

The Black Barn is such a pleasure to visit. It is truly a Black Barn, and a beautiful one at that, nestled in the woods next to a winding river and filled with enchantments to delight all of your senses and the creative maker in you. 

Upon entering, we were struck by the greenery, signs of spring – this gave me hope, coffee mugs, blackberry jams and delectables (toffee). Moving inward, the kitchenary will attract the baker in you, and around the corner, there are books of best selling authors to cozy up by the fire with. And, then, there is the children’s corner. . .

Shelves and nooks and crannies filled with stuffed animals and books and childish things that grandmothers desire for their grandchildren. My daughter and I took turns holding, squeezing and sharing each stuffed animal with each other – I think believing that we were actually one-upping one another with every new discovery. 

“I really like the avocado doll . . . and the carrot,” she said.

“Oh, it’s the sheep for me,” I replied.

I carried the sheep with me throughout the store, not knowing why I had to have her or for whom she would even belong. Two children’s’ books found their way into my arms as well – titles I hadn’t heard. How could that be? Any day with a new book discovery is heaven indeed.

Nearing the check-out counter, my decision to purchase my goods was stronger than the one that usually taunts me that it’s time to put things back. It’s the Mother Voice nagging “Do you really need this?” 

 I decided that yes, I did need everything, and I set it all on the counter.

“Oh, you found the sheep!” I heard Brenda say from behind the till. Brenda owns this charming Black Barn. “Did you see her name?”

“No, I didn’t, she has a name?” I responded.

“Oh, yes,” she smiled, and she reached for the tag on the sheep and opened it for me to read. Our eyes met in the mystery of the moment.

Sherri Sheep it read.

Good heavens. We all laughed in surprise and it was decided by us all that the sheep was there for me and was just awaiting my arrival.

I left with my heart full and my little-girl soul happy at the magic of the moment. 

Thank you, Brenda, for your attention yesterday. So easy it would have been to just collect the money for the items I purchased, say thank you and send us on our way. You did more. You have created a dream space in this barn and filled it with items that remind us of who we can be and the possibilities of what we can do.

But more than this – you remembered my own name and made me feel seen, and created a somehow magical moment, in which this gift attracted me. You did not know that an old lady dream of mine is to raise alpaca sheep one day, and spin wool, and knit hats and small things for children to wear, but somehow, the universe has a way of using people to remind us of who we are and what our dreams are.

It’s a fairy tale dream that may never happen, but it’s fun to dream none-the-less. 

Until then, I’ll just keep visiting Brenda at the Black Barn. 

There’s magic in there.

Living My Questions: What does it mean to “do the work on yourself” first, as a White, Privileged Female in a Racist World?

Microagression image

The Day the protests began, I’d already felt helpless. I didn’t know enough about the Black Lives Matter movement. I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t even know how to talk about it. And, if I’m honest, I had very few people in my racially insulated northern Minnesota pillowed life to talk to about it with a listening ear. Most people are ready to defend their views. Much of what I was reading on social media urged White people to “do the work” themselves to make a difference in racial injustice advocacy.

But, what does, “Do the work?” actually mean?

As always, I reach for books first – books about racial injustice, racism, and the history of white supremacy in our country. The first read was a book by Beverly Daniel Tatum called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.

With a pen, book and notebook in hand, I carried two chairs and a small table out into my yard by the flowering crab apple tree. A perfect location to bask in the aroma of the tree blossoms and soak in the sun. I needed one chair to sit on, the other to rest my feet upon with knees bent to use as a table for my notebook. This is an important part of the story. Pay attention. The chairs were kinda heavy. I had to make two trips. After I was set up, I made a third trip and balanced my coffee on a small table, bringing it out to set beside my chairs. I could stretch this part of the story out, but this is just a blog post, not a book and this is enough to give you a picture of my effort in this matter of setting up to read.

Each chapter in this book, demands a close read. There is so much to digest, unpack, and make sense of: systemic racism, microaggressions, Real Estate Laws, redlining, the New Jim Crow, Government Policies, incarceration statistics, discriminatory voting laws, intersectionality, overt white nationalism and internalized oppression. These are only some of the factors that contribute to a society of racism. I’d read for a bit, then write a few sentences in my notebook, connecting the ideas to prior knowledge or experiences.

My only issue was:

I didn’t have enough experiences.

My husband eventually ventured out to the yard with his coffee cup.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Reading – writing,” I replied. He must tire of this response and wonder if I ever get anywhere with the reading and writing that I do.

He set his coffee mug on my table and with both hands on the sides of the chair I had my feet on, began to move it.

“What are you doing?” I asked, jolted.

“I’m going to sit in this chair,” he said.

“But I’m using that chair for my feet,” I said. (I know. This sounds so selfish. But, don’t forget how much work it took me to get set up!)

“Do you really need two chairs?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “There are more chairs up by the house if you want to bring one out.”

He was calm and not upset. Rolled his eyes inside his head, I’m sure. He took his coffee cup and decided to go sit up by the porch.

Now, you may be thinking I am an inconsiderate wife. Or, you may be thinking my husband is inconsiderate. Whatever you are thinking, park that thought for a moment, because it’s beside the point I want to make with this episode. Just play along with me here.

Instead, imagine you are a Black college student, male or female, it does not matter,  sitting in the Union studying alone. You pulled a heavy chair from against the wall over to rest your feet upon to set your laptop on.

Then imagine, a White male comes and attempts to grab the chair your feet are resting on to bring over to sit at another section of the Union with his buddies. He does not ask. There are other chairs available. He wants this one.

How do you feel?

Imagine it. Maybe it’s actually happened to you – or something like it.

That’s how I felt.

I happened to be reading Tatum’s chapter on microaggressions.

Tatum uses psychologist, Derald Wing Sue’s definition of racial microaggressions as “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”

I imagined the act of taking my chair as a behavioral, unintentional indignity. Indignity is a sharp word that encompasses shame, embarrassment and insult. I didn’t have shame or embarrassment, nor was I insulted, but had I been surrounded by others? maybe. . .

After my husband went back to the porch, I presumed he was perfectly content, drinking his coffee and reading. He doesn’t dwell on these kinds of things. He respects my solitude and I respect his. I can rationalize this.

However, I was left, energetically, in a different place, than when he arrived. I internalized the small act of inconsideration towards me and I could feel it in my body. It had to go somewhere. I blew this up in my mind, for “the experience” of “the micro-aggression”.

Keep playing with me here. . .

Did he feel entitled to the chair? Did he feel he had power over me? He was not emotionally effected. I was. What was that???? Call me crazy.

Back to being the imaginary Black student in the union. Do you say something? If you do, what do you risk? Is it worth it? Who would be the one to start the argument? What authorities get called over? Whose voice would get heard? Certainly, no one NEEDS two chairs.

Now imagine 10 – 20 microaggressions a week. These – just the “smallest” acts of racism.

Beverly Daniel Tatum writes, “Social science research has demonstrated that the cumulative effect of microaggressions ‘assail the self-esteem of recipients, produce anger and frustration, deplete psychic energy, lower feelings of subjective well-being and worthiness, produce physical health problems, and shorten life expectancy. . .'”   Psychologist Derald Wing Sue “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”

It’s a constant perpetual drip of stress.

I imagined a life time of these acts towards me – in which I had no power to reject or stand up against, for fear of what might happen. Then, I imagined generations of these acts – for hundreds of years. How much gets stored in the body with nowhere to go? Passed down from generation to generation. At some point, you don’t even know why you are angry – you can’t name it. It lives in you.

But then. Something happens.

Like a Black man being killed on video for the world to see.

And, you are cracked open.

I made these discoveries in my notebook as I documented what was happening, my emotions, connections to ideas from the book and my imagination.  I needed the “chair stealing” experience with my husband as the missing piece to “the work” I needed to do.

Gratefully, our relationships can prompt for experiences that can be starting points to imagine racial injustice. It is here that we gain understanding and develop empathy for those who are oppressed.

I’m not sure how others do “the work”, but this is where I’m starting until I learn more. I know I still have “work” to do on my own unconscious racist ways of being, thinking and behaving. I know that I’m not sure if I will do this “work” right. But, I’m willing to just start, lean into the discomfort, get messy trying figure it out.

“The work” continues . . .

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Remedy ~Mending a Weary Soul

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It’s all I have to bring today

This, and my heart beside

This, and my heart, and all the fields

And all the meadows wide

Be sure you count – should I forget

Some one the sum could tell –

This, and my heart, and all the Bees

Which in the clover dwell.

~Emily Dickenson (1830-1886)

This weary soul of mine succumbed to social media early in the morning, as some days, scrolling is all I can muster. My hand, even too exhausted to lift the pen to my notebook page.

On this particular day, a teacher-writer-soul friend, Mary Lee Haun, was also having a weary kind of day.  Her #poemofpresence whispered to the quiet corners of my dissonance:

today I am sad

please don’t try to cheer me up

there’s nothing for it

My fingers typed a few words to let her know that I felt her angst as well. I shared with her a word I’d recently learned, one that named this kind of tired – a word in Tibetan:  ye tang che. The ye part means “totally, completely”, and the rest of it means “exhausted”. Altogether, ye tang che means “totally exhausted”.

Devendra Banhart taught me this word, while listening to him on a recent episode of the On Being podcast. The lovely language and voices of this podcast are healing, so I turn here often in times of need. The word, ye tang che, Devendra credits to have learned from Pema Chadron in his book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

I had jotted it into my notebook to bring up in moments of despair. Like this.

A lovely dear friend of us both, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, swept in to save us on this dreary day. My heart sang just seeing her name and an image of her responding to our short conversation.

She offered a gift: a recommendation of a book.

The Wild Remedy ~ How Nature Mends Us by Emma Mitchell.

With a slight surge of new energy, a quick exploration brought me to the contents of Emma’s book. Emma suffers of “the grey slug” or depression, as some know it as. She shares her journey through nature as a balm to lift the grey from her days. Winding paths through the woods, drawing and painting the discoveries along her way fill her illustrated diaries. Month by month, she charts her highs and lows and the neuroscience of how our bodies, minds, spirits and hearts receive the natural healing benefits of plants and wildlife when we step into the wild.

Her book arrived on my doorstep yesterday.

All of a sudden, I’m witnessing more bees, and fields and meadows wide.

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~ from my morning walk ~

And . . . my heart is beginning to mend from all of this ye tang che.

 

When a Poem Lands on You ~ SOL 2020

As I pulled on the right leg of my black leggings this morning, around 6:00 am, leaning back in my chair, both feet lifting high into the air, as if gravity was going to lure these things on, the words of a childhood poem washed over me.

“Monday’s child is full of grace,” it whispered, as poems sometimes do.

Even though I know not the exact words of this nostalgic nursery rhyme, parts of it are lodged deep within me somewhere, and I thought,

“Wait, I don’t think Monday’s child is full of grace. It’s Tuesday’s child!”

But I’m telling you, Monday’s child needs it.

The words swirled and played in the dance of a new poem being born as I reached for my “Monday” dress, a free flowing knit, waist free, forgiving, stretchy, throw in the dryer, no-need-to-iron kind of dress. It wears on me whether I am a size 4 or a size 14. I hoover somewhere in between, depending on the day, the month, the season or the year.

Still – this dress embraces me and says, “It’s okay, I’m here for you, Shari.”

Topped off with my favorite black vest and knee high boots, Monday arrives in the comfort of my Friday jeans, even after a weekend of pizza, too many cookies and a little (okay, a lot) of laying around.

Gosh, I love a dress that can do that to a Monday.

Oh, the poem. It’s been marinating all morning. Here’s what I’ve got so far. . .

Monday’s dress is full of grace,

A thank you melts across her face,

None is there of shameful woes, or

Regrets of weekend diet foes.

With the stretch of lycra, loving and giving

Enabling her to go on with her living

A life that is so good and gay

A gift to savor on the morn of Monday.

Gosh – writing that just made me so happy! Poetry can do that, you know.

Writing Intentions: Making Connections ~ SOL~2020

writing friends

“The most daring thing to do with your life is to create a stable community in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”     ~ Kurt Vonnegut

It’s not that I forget to write a Slice of Life (or two or three even). I write every morning in my notebook.  My notebook writing is my life support. But, it’s not Slice of Life writing. So, then, I have to write twice in the day, which wouldn’t be a problem except I save it for the end of the day. And, at the end of the day, opening up my laptop is a dread when you’ve been looking at it all day.

I could write a slew a slices in one day and then just shoot them out each morning. But, that doesn’t feel authentic. What I write one day might not feel true on another day. Oh bother. . . there are so many other facets that contribute to my issue of putting writing out there for the world to see, but that’s too daunting to address in one Slice of Life. Another day . . . maybe.

I had to reassess my purpose of slicing in this challenge because for the last couple of years, I petered out after day 4 or 5. Sometimes I’d come back, sometimes not. I’m coming back this time because it’s only March 8th. There’s a lot of month left. It’s too early to jump ship.

But, if I’m brutally honest, I need the energy that comes from discovering new relationships and in keeping past relationships alive.

My writing friend, Elisabeth Ellingson at the dirigible plum reminded me about intentions of the challenge. For me, I don’t need to develop a habit. I don’t need to learn how to live a wide awake life most of the time (ideas are NOT my problem, choosing is my problem). I need community. A real writing community. So alone we feel in this writing life.

So alone we feel in this life sometimes. Period.

So, I’m not going to fret so much about what I put out there just as long as I’m showing up to join others in this journey, to cheer others on for being here, and to relish the new connections we make as we discover new like-minded writing souls.

Thank you for writing with me. And, reading – because sometimes it’s just as much fun being a cheerleader.

Shari 🙂