Like this? Learn to build a better life at Good Life Project
~ With thanks to Jonathan Fields
Like this? Learn to build a better life at Good Life Project
~ With thanks to Jonathan Fields
Just received word that my combination artwork/6-word bio is being published by Smith Magazine in the book Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated. As a grad student, I was eligible for the competition. I’m amazed at the profound insights from students of all ages. Their wisdom (and accompanying artwork) is well worth the purchase price. You can grab a copy at the Smith website or at iTunes or Amazon.
Here’s the blurb for the book:
“What would you say if you had just six words to define your life? That’s the challenge Larry Smith presented to his online community, SMITH Magazine, in 2006. His quest was inspired by the legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a novel in just six words. His heartbreaking result: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Giving the form a personal twist, Smith reimagined the six-word novel idea as the Six-Word Memoir, challenging contributors to create a half-dozen words of self-reflection. The constraint, it turned out, fueled rather than inhibited creativity: “Sometimes lonely in a crowded bed.” “My life made my therapist laugh.” “Wasn’t born a redhead — fixed that.” “I still make coffee for two.”
Inspired by Six Words’ popularity in English classes and art classes alike, Smith recently called for submissions for illustrated Six-Word Memoirs, in which he asked students, whether in grade school or grad school, to create a piece of artwork that enhanced their memoirs. The voices in Things Don’t Have to Be Complicated are younger than those of previous memoirists, but no less profound: “Said he loved me, he lied.” “Two girls, both of them me.” “Big dreams, big heart, big mouth.” “I’m a Muslim, not a terrorist.” “Life is better with headphones on.” This book contains dozens more. At its core, the Six-Word Memoir offers a simple way for anyone of any age to try to answer the question that defines us all: Who am I?“
If you wrote a 6-word memoir, what would it say?
One of the fun things about being a writer is running across fascinating information. In an article on cognitive science, I read that observing others performing an action fires off the exact same neurons in the observer’s brain.
I guess that explains couch potatoes who watch hours of football. They aren’t as lazy as they appear. In their minds they’ve actually played the game. All the same neurons were firing in their brains as were firing in the brains of the players on the field. No wonder viewers are so exhausted at the end of playoff weekend. And it explains why people pay big bucks to go to sports events or stay glued to the TV during the Olympics–they’re actually performing all those feats in their minds.
So that leads to an important question: If neurons do the same work in observers’ brains, couldn’t this idea work well for weight loss and fitness? If I watch hours of exercise videos, will my body soon look like that of the trainers’? Surely someone can figure out the optimum number of hours I’d need to watch to lose, say, twenty pounds. My brain would feel as if I’d done all that strenuous exercise and would trigger the fat-burning processes that go with it. It seems logical that my body would automatically burn the same number of calories as the trainers’ if my mind is doing the same work.
As we’re hustling and bustling to get the last of the holiday shopping done, it’s so easy to get annoyed with slowpokes who block our speed-walking through a store on our lunch hours or with rude people who push ahead of us in line. But recently I heard a suggestion that totally revolutionized how I feel when that happens.
Whatever label you’ve just given that person who’s upsetting you–irritating, pushy, nasty, inconsiderate–put it into this sentence: There I go again, being…
There I go again, being pushy.
There I go again, being rude.
Wait a minute, you might say. I wasn’t the one who was doing that. Ah, but if you believe, like I do, that we’re all interconnected and that what you see is a reflection of what’s in your heart, then it’s easy to see that you made the choice to see rudeness or unkindness. And I find when I say that, it reminds me that I’ve done the same thing at times.
Perhaps that’s what’s meant by: There, but for the grace of God, go I…
Although some people use that to make themselves feel superior, if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize you’re saying that any differences between you and the other person are because of grace. You are the same, but someone is looking at your actions through forgiving eyes. Now it’s your turn to do the same.
But the wonderful thing about this sentence is that you can use it when you see acts of kindness, generosity, and love.
There I go again, being generous and thoughtful.
There I go again, being helpful and considerate.
So while you’re shopping, which “you” will you see. I hope you have the special joy and privilege of seeing “you” through the eyes of a child, with all the magic and wonder that entails.
One great thing about researching for my current book project (on North American Tribes) is coming across interesting facts. I discovered that some of the California Indian nations had an unusual way of doing battle–one I think we might do well to emulate.
The opponents lined up facing each other and at a signal from their chiefs, who monitored the battle, they began firing arrows at each other. The battle ended when the first person died. That side was declared the loser, and everyone stopped shooting.
Battle over. Minimal casualties.
If either side felt they hadn’t gotten enough satisfaction, the two chiefs set up another battle in a different location ten day later. Same rules. If during the battle, things got out of hand or too many people were hurt, the chiefs took off their hairnets and waved them in the air. Fighting stopped instantly.
That ten day cooling off period was a terrific idea. I wonder how many fights got called off during that time as ration prevailed over emotion.
I’m thinking we could learn a lot from this. Although I’d love to see a world completely at peace, this might be a solution to the horrible carnage of war. Limit the deaths to one rather than thousands.
The more I read the accounts of European explorers and American settlers, the more I have to wonder about the label, “savages” that the Euro-Americans used for the Native nations. Who really were the savages?
OK, I’m ducking here as all the dog lovers of the world throw rotten fruit and veggies at me. But bear with me. I began my life as a dog-lover. There are pictures of me as an infant cuddled up with our cocker spaniel, Ginger. When I was in grade school, I was a dog magnet. Every stray in the world followed me home. It might have helped that I usually held out a bit of bologna from the sandwiches I hated at lunchtime. But invariably day after day, I’d have dogs literally eating out of my hand.
I petted mangy, flea-infested beasts with the same affection I showed my baby brother (Yes, I adored him. Can’t say the same for my sister, however, although we did become friends after we grew up.) I sneaked food out to them if I could manage to keep them hidden. But my mother was the dog police. You’d think having had a dog, she’d be sympathetic to my obsession. But we’d given our dog away when we moved out of the country. By the time we returned to the U.S., she’d turned anti-dog. So I knew better than to bring them into the house. I hid them behind the shed which had a shaded overhang.
Then I made surreptitious trips to the refrigerator, and all the loose dogs in the neighborhood feasted on pot roast and chicken. Some even broke free of their chains to visit me. I’d fed a stray and get attached. I’d lay beside them with my arms around them as they slept. I groomed them with hairbrushes I sneaked from the house. I borrowed china bowls from the holiday dishes (figuring they’d be missed least) for water. I took good care of the dogs. And they’d repay me by licking my face, greeting me when I returned home from school, howling at night when I went in to bed. Some even followed me to school and lay panting in the schoolyard until I emerged at the end of the day.
But here’s the sad part. They always broke my heart. After a few days (or sometimes weeks if I was lucky), the dog disappeared. I’d come home from school, and my best friend would have taken off for parts unknown. I sobbed into my pillow at night and moped around the house. I thought they didn’t love me any more. I had no idea what I’d done wrong. Why I couldn’t manage to keep a pet. It was years before I discovered the truth.
Every dog I’d brought home ended up at the pound. Then the same neighbor girl who gave me that information also explained that the pound killed the dogs and chopped them up for hamburger meat.* I was devastated. I thought I’d been helping strays. Instead I’d been turning them into meat. I refused to eat hamburgers after that. And it was months before I spoke to my mother after I discovered she was the one who’d dragged of all my pets to the pound.
So now I can’t be around a dog without feeling sad. I don’t want to pet one or let it worm its furry way into my heart. After all, you never know when a dogcatcher might be just around the corner.
* It was many years before I discovered this neighbor girl had a penchant for exaggeration.
In keeping with my theme of nonforgiveness (see previous post), I thought I’d think of people in my life I forgave, but probably shouldn’t have. If I’d known about this research earlier in life, just think how many people I could have helped.
I’ll start with my high school nemesis who stole my almost-boyfriend. OK, so he and I had sort of gone on one date together. Or rather we tried to. Friends who know how directionally challenged I am will not be surprised to hear that instead of heading north on the highway to our destination, I accidentally turned south, and never realized my mistake until we crossed the state line. He had let me choose our destination (big mistake!), so he had no idea what I had in mind. So that semi-date plus one phone call the week before to let me know he’d flunked his driver’s test was the extent of our relationship to that point. Still I had high hopes.
The holidays were approaching, and I felt sure I’d have a date with him for the next big to-do. Because he didn’t have his license, I’d figure we’d meet there. So I dressed to kill and spent half an hour trying to discourage friends from taking the seat I was saving for HIM.
Meet there we did. And he was as romantic as I dreamed he’d be, except the person he was cuddling was not me. Yep, she was holding his hand, wrapping her arm around him, while I pretended I hadn’t been saving that seat for anyone special.
After crying for hours that night, I resolved to be nice to both of them. And I was. I never said a word to either of them about my broken heart (she’d known I had a crush on him), and I stayed friends with them. Too bad I didn’t know about this grudge-holding research. I might have come up with some harsh consequences that would have made them both think twice about what they’d done. As it turned out, a few months later she broke my best friend’s heart when she stole her steady boyfriend. And then six months later cheated on him with my neighbor’s fiance. Who knows how much heartache I could have saved others by being unforgiving.
So what auld acquaintances in your life do you wish you could forget?
Forgiveness has always come fairly easy for me. It’s tough for me to hold grudges. It may be because I know my faults, so I’m more than willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I know I’ve been forgiven, so I believe I should extend that to others.
It recently came as quite a shock to discover that what I’d always thought of as a virtue is actually not. According to a recent study, people who forgive are more likely to become victims of abusers. Researchers discovered that forgiving offenses means that other people learn there are no negative consequences for their actions, so they’re much more likely to behave badly again. Thus people who hold grudges are actually doing the world a service by helping others become better people.
So if I truly want to help others, perhaps my new slogan should be: Forgive and Forget? Never!
I posted a forget-me-not because I usually forget my resolutions within a few days or weeks at most. I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep this one.