The Art of Living Happy

The Art of Living Happy

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

~ Ralph Waldo Emmerson

I recently heard this notion that keeping oneself busy meeting friends for coffee, movies, or dinner dates, and shopping, or all the myriad ways we fill our time, may just be a form of distraction keeping us creatives from making our art – that which our soul yearns for us to create, and the world needs.

For the past couple of years I felt like I was living in limbo. I had this intense desire to write, but the words were often stuck inside, all bottled up.

During this time I became aware I had a constant low-grade anxiety (okay maybe more than low-grade). Truthfully, this awareness came when I began to take medicine to manage spinal stenosis and arthritis pain. The realization hit when the immediate benefit was a lack of anxiety. I felt easier in my body. It took the ease of it, the missing of it, to make me see.

This anxiety had become a constant, perhaps throughout my life. I’ve certainly beat myself up enough, certainly put a great deal of pressure on myself, certainly felt not enough in so many ways.

This past several weeks words have begun to flow in the form of poetry. In my last post I wrote about how it feels like I’ve come home – to myself – in writing poetry.

It’s been a release, a transcendent experience, and one of finding a measure of wholeness. In fact, it’s become so therapeutic I decided to experiment to see if the anxiety and pain would flare up if I reduced my medication.

I’m doing a slow, gradual withdrawal so that I can closely monitor things, and so far writing poetry has been winning as a pain and anxiety replacement – for me. (Of course, I can’t recommend it to anyone else.) Yes, even with all our lives being upended and we now live in a surreal world, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening every aspect of life, health, and livelihoods – writing poetry continues to be a cathartic healing experience.

Mind you, at the forefront of all this is being aware my faith in God is being tested, as is the case for all of us.

How much do we trust him?

How strong is our faith?

A book I am currently reading (very slowly for a deep integration) is The Year of Living Happy: Finding Contentment and Connection in a Crazy World, by Alli Worthington. I think there couldn’t be a more perfect time to read a book such as this.

Is it possible to be happy in these current uncertain times, when our ways of living are being uprooted?

I’ve spent several days mulling over and meditating upon what the author proposes just in the first chapter titled Happy Roots. She tells us that if we can live, with our happiness rooted deeply in God, then the temporary trials of the day will not throw us off.

… true happiness comes only from Him. It does not come through our material possessions, our relationships, or our circumstances.

~ Alli Worthington, The Year of Living Happy

Oh wow. How had I not understood it in this way before?!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

   whose trust is in the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

   that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

   for its leaves remain green,

and it does not cease to bear fruit.

~ Jeremiah 17:7-8

It will soon be three years since I became a Christian, but I had lacked that insight. Over the years of my creative life (and life in general) I’ve had many successes and many failures, and upon reflection both aspects left me feeling something was missing and not quite right. Most important to note are how the successes made me feel. My accomplishments should have made me happy, right? The relationship with my wonderful loving husband should make me happy, right? Sometimes they did, but that kind of happiness is fleeting. It lasts only a moment. It’s not a day-in, day-out kind of happiness.

Pondering the idea that God should be the source of my happiness is illuminating, and a little confusing. I mean, how does that work?

I’m trying to take it in. I suppose this is not a matter of trying, but of letting the Almighty integrate this into my inner self.

I have to admit though, it is creating a lightness within, and despite also having been terribly sick with a cold and self-isolating, I am waking more now with a growing hope, a growing happiness that is not dependent on how I’m physically feeling, what I’m doing, or what I have.

It makes me wonder, is it possible to live each day, to write it on our heart that every day is the best day in the year, as Mr. Ralph Waldo Emmerson tells us? I can only speak for me, without God, without hope, without faith – it’s not.

Writing poetry is healing, it is transcendent, but without my believing in God, it’s not inspired.

Here’s a little excerpt from my poem titled The Calling Forth Garden

Coming Home

Coming Home

Once you find where the weight of your talent lies, that’s where you start putting down roots.

~ David Leite, quoted from Exit Interview on Qwerty with Marion Roach Smith

I’ve had an idea for a novel noodling around in my head for a year and a half now. Just when I thought I was getting my feet back under me after my father’s death last year and began to sort through my research to start working on it, life threw me another curve ball. This time over my mother’s health.

It put me into a bit of scramble for a few weeks, but I’m reminded I also need to care for my own health (and sanity and happiness and…)

Not quite ready for something as intensive as a lengthy novel, my soul was still urging me to put pen to paper. So, I decided to write poetry for a while because it seemed something I could manage.

A few poems in and I felt like I was coming home – to myself and my origins in writing. To a craft that has saved me on more than one occasion. A home where I could put down roots for a while; to express thoughts difficult to articulate in few, but healing words, to go darker and lighter, and to ease the pain in my body and heart.

Soon I felt poetry taking a hold on me and I’ve decided to write a book of poetry.

I love love love David Leite’s advice and it’s worthy of taking note. Letting it guide you to find the core of your talents and to help you put down roots if you’ve been struggling to figure it out.

Just follow the clues in the things that you love to do and what feels like home to you. We can put so much pressure on ourselves to make a living from our passion, but sometimes attaching money to things can ruin the whole experience before it has a chance to take hold of us and grow.

In a way, I’ve come back to poetry out of necessity, but it’s turning out to be the key to unblocking my words again after a drought.

I want to experiment and grow in my craft and the two books I am frequently turning to for inspiration are poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge and Selected Poems of Anne Sexton.

poemcrazy is filled with lots of writing practices to free the words inside. I enjoyed the chapter that suggests creating a word pool of feeling words. The practice suggests choosing a feeling, look at an image of art or a postcard and describe something in the piece that depicts your feeling.

I wrote a poem titled ‘I Feel…’ using this technique. In the poem I alternated stanzas between heavier and lighter themes. Here’s one stanza :

I feel…

the willy nilly of hills around the next corner,

a tap tap tap on a new film reel,

anticipation with cheeks puckered pink and a button nose.

This is so different from my norm, and gets me thinking in a new way using images to convey feelings.

I’m also enjoying Anne Sexton’s poetry and experimenting to help me grow. Emulating work you admire is a great way to learn and help you to develop your own unique style.

Here’s one of Anne’s earlier works that has so much flow and intentionality… The Balance Wheel:

Where I waved at the sky

And waited your love through a February sleep,

I saw birds swinging in, watched them multiply

Into a tree, weaving on a branch, cradling to keep

In the arms of April, sprung from the south to occupy

This slow lap of land, like cogs of some balance wheel.

I saw them build the air, with that motion birds feel.

 

Where I wave at the sky

And understand love, knowing our August heat,

I see birds pulling past the dim frosted thigh

Of Autumn, unlatched from the next, and wing-beat

For the south, making their high dots across the sky,

Like beauty spots marking a still perfect cheek.

I see them bend the air, slipping away, for what birds seek.

Something new growing alive in the writing… the study… the experimenting… of poetry.

When you have a big grief…

When you have a big grief…

I came across an author interview on YouTube yesterday, featuring Mary Karr and Helen Macdonald. Mary, I have listened to on numerous occasions, but never before had I heard of Helen. She is the author of H is for Hawk, an autobiographical account of how she trained a predatory goshawk as a way to deal with her father’s death.

It was not a far-fetched thing for her as she was a falconer, and it wasn’t losing her father that intrigued me, it was her extraordinary poetic and sublimely articulate way of describing this period in her life that did. (Please excuse the excessive use of adverbs.)

Having lost my father last year, I could relate to her escapism. Though, far from becoming a naturalist, I dove into the boring job of cleaning, decluttering and reorganizing cupboards and closets in my home. I had such zeal and energy for this – until I didn’t. Then everything came crashing down.

Helen is British and between her accent and beautiful vocabulary, I soaked up the conversation as nourishment for my soul. However, I had to pause the video when she said, “When you have a big grief you can’t be you anymore”.

Those words spoke to the core of my experience and I could think of nothing else until I put some words to it in a poem.  Not caring whether it was good or not, in fact it probably isn’t. It begins like this:

When You Have a Big Grief…

The whole stratosphere shatters

everything is transient

nothing can be trusted

the ground becomes

a gaping hole.

The poem continues for several stanzas and then I went for a walk.

Inspired, I suppose, by Helen’s experiences with training, living and hunting with her hawk “Mabel”, I chose to finally face a death of another nature. One that took place on May 21, 2018. An overnight fire at Sunnybrook Stables in Toronto, taking the lives of 16 horses.

I was a frequent visitor to the stables over the years; watching the horses grazing in the field or jumping in training sessions. When I heard of the fire it sucked the air out of me in shock and grief. My coping mechanism was to shut it out because it hurt too much.

As I watch the news clip, finally, today – my heart flutters its sadness.

I went resolutely prepared to see death in remnants of the barn. I know it’s almost two years, but time collapsed and I thought it was only perhaps one. Regardless, for some reason I expected to see a charred building abandoned. Instead there was only the ground – with a gaping hole.

The Sunnybrook Stables has been a city icon, a heritage for over 100 years – gone now and not to be rebuilt.

A big death indeed.

Grief is a long slow process. It comes in waves and tsunami’s.  There’s pain and sorrow, anger and fits, impatience and burrowing away under covers.

Here’s another excerpt from my poem:

The world shouts to get back on the train

but that within, whispers, no don’t.

 

It’s too soon for hope

too soon for wings

too soon for all the noise

 

but faith with lonely,

now that’s a sacred thing.

The line between life and death is so very thin and most of us never live in that knowing – until it comes for us.

I very much want to live with an open heart, to not shut down when the hard times consume. It takes intentional, thoughtful effort to live a breathtaking life. Writing, journaling and other creative practices help us to slow life down, to take notice, to feel, to think and to reflect on what our living means to ourselves, to others, and to our God.

I feel the pressure to jump back on the train some days, with the push and pull of the world whirling all around, but the sacred does call; the spirit within and the pen and paper. The latter infinitely more enticing.

 

The Everlasting Note

The Everlasting Note

Were but my world contained

in a note of music

I would be ever satisfied

ever filled on harmony

riding on eternity of living

in all the fullness of affirming

breaths in and out.

 

But chaos consumes when that note

is seduced by the ugly pride

and runs wild with its tentacles

in open fields of weeds

seeking something… anything

to latch on to

hissing out its poison

hurting anything its path.

 

Oh, Most High

my heart, my head, my spoken words

would your love unite

until my dying breath

that I may never again wallow in regret

instead be only praises

on the melody that beckons the living

in the ever and a day.

 

Throughout my life has been a habitual process of beating myself up when I screw up and it creates a spiral leading to nowhere good and fast.

Studying the scriptures and living in a prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to come alive in me every day has been extraordinary in transforming my life and how I interact with people. With the focus on love, I try to remain, but there are circumstances that test me and I will be honest, I fail – gloriously.

Recently, I experienced a moment my ego, my stubborn pride wanted to make a point and I didn’t have the fortitude to suppress something that was the opposite of love. I hurt someone dear in this pointing out. I didn’t build her up as scriptures tells us to, and I might have felt justified in the moment, but boy was that moment short lived because I stewed and stressed about it for all that day and the next.

 

“So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” ~ Romans 14:19

 

Hurt feelings. My mind was spinning it over and over. My heart and body was not happy.  That’s what I accomplished.

Not only did I finally (hopefully finally) get that it was not worth it to give my pride the floor, but another opportunity presented itself. I could continue to let my misguided ways fester or I could give it to God expressing my sorrow and ask him to make it right, or use it for his good purpose.

In that giving, there came peace in knowing it was in his hands now. There came ease and softness with myself, which was a welcome gift.

I can live in the knowing that more opportunities to learn to be and speak with love will come. I also know I’m not always going to get it right, but I’m sure going to work on emulating that love.

Poem: The Everlasting Note by Kiernan Antares

Once Upon a Time…

Once Upon a Time…

What is the word upon my soul,

the pen

the colour

the brushstroke

that begs everything to come alive

with the beating of my heart,

the blood coursing through my veins,

the in and out of breath,

that was shallow… lifeless

before You called me,

before You spoke my name.

 

I turn the pages of my past

and I see brokenness,

in the midst of hellfire

tender hearts cry out,

the eyes say it all.

 

What is the story that wants

to be written.

With arms stretched out,

my head slumps down…

What voice beckons

to be heard.

 

Can I take what’s hard to examine

and make beauty of it.

Will I see You

there beside me

through it all.

 

Through Your eyes

will I see.

Through Your ears

will I hear.

Through Your heart

will I feel.

 

Promise me You’ll not let me

wander.

Promise me You’ll not let me

waste, while and whither

life away,

always learning and never knowing

You.

 

What needs to be asked.

What needs to be seen.

What needs to be heard

in the word upon my soul.

There are several ways to write a memoir. Perhaps the easiest is to just sit down and write about whatever memories come up, then sift through and see what theme or patterns would become apparent.

I’ve been sifting and sorting through the recesses of my mind, and I became determined (maybe obsessed is a better description) with having just one word that would claim me. In a Life Worthy of One Simple Word I explore this notion.

My one word did indeed demand my attention… the theme that will inform and guide me in my memoir writing process… I’m not ready to divulge it just yet, but it stands as the working title of my book.

Now, as I’ve sat down to begin the actual writing… yes, I could simply begin, but before I do… before I get in too deep… new questions arise. Questions that will impact everything.

In what voice shall I write? From which perspective?

I don’t just want to blather on about things that happened. That’s for journaling. I want it to be exploratory, informative and interesting to write and to read.

Maybe I’m procrastinating. Maybe I’m making it harder than it needs to be. But, then again maybe the story has a mind of its own and its working to get my attention, so that I don’t get in the way and muddle it up.

I think sometimes we forget to soften into quiet moments, or even to create space for our minds and our hearts to listen to the gentle whispers of our soul.

We’re so anxious to move forward, to take steps, to be actively doing something. Our worlds so noisy, so busy, so demanding with doingness. What happened to being and feeling the presence of the moment?

My day had been planned. The photos would come out and it would all be revealed. Then I would be able to dive in and write.

The photos did come out. Memories and feelings swamped me. My head did indeed slump down in empathy. My cheek resting on an old beat up album, and I asked the questions.

I waited. I listened. I waited some more. I reflected on my artworks… on the photos… on a notebook I purchased specifically for times I would need to write, pen to paper, ideas or thoughts for the book.

Some things need to percolate.

I have a fascination with notebooks. Maybe all writers do. I love mine to find me and not let me walk away.

Sorry honey, the dollar store kind, they’re the ones thrown in the compartment in the car, when I need something I can scribble on and tear out. But, to write with, really write with… we need to have a relationship.

I love to love how they feel in my hands. How does the cover feel and what does it say, if anything? What about the design? The line spacing… it needs to be just right. Not too squished together and not too far apart… just right that I don’t feel restrictive, but not wasteful either.

My most recent purchase, the one specifically for my memoir is a simple black leather notebook. It has a strap to wrap around it. It makes me feel like a writer with a purpose. And, embossed in silver on the cover is the phrase,

‘Once upon a time…’

Hmmm… Once upon a time… long long ago…

I don’t know why, but it invites me to open my mind… to possibilities.

Writing is a way for me to lean in close… to listen and explore the world God created inside me.

I’m well into reading the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, ‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Frank McCourt and there is one line (just one line in the whole book) that I have highlighted on page 202.

“It’s lovely to know the world can’t interfere with the inside of your head.”

I stopped. I smiled. I nodded… yes, indeed.

A Life Worthy of One Simple Word

A Life Worthy of One Simple Word

In a world of words, I want just one.

Just one that jumps out and claims me.

One that tells a story within a story. One that speaks to the deepest darkest depths… of the heart of this writer’s life… the word that makes sense of the wild and crazy journey I’ve been on.

The word that has compelled me, sent me out into the world to find its meaning, because it existed inside of me before I understood it… and then went into hiding, but always… always it was there.

A word that has taunted me to seek it in the daily grind, in the excruciating pain that consumed me, and in the beauty of fleeting moments that I believed were sacred… but, discovered haunting loneliness instead.

Through ugly loves, choices of spirals that were misguided and flawed, because I believed in the lies that were not real, but acted against everything that on some level I knew was right.

Through beautiful loves too… loves that have given me hope in the seeking of a sustaining truth.

A word that sums it all up and turns it all upside down… inside out… makes it all right in the soul… in the breath… in the wings that hover and protect.

In the loving eye that has always kept me in sight… in the uttering of the word… in the qualities of holy… of the holiest of holies whispering.

In the gentlest of breath uttered by my ear and fluttering along my cheek that it makes me quiver.

A waft of it swirling up into my mind, down into the ventricles of living life pulsing with particles expanding… drawing me somewhere closer to the only known that matters.

There is a book, a second book. A memoir. It’s waiting for me to write it. It’s preparing me. I’m sifting through moments to explore it, to investigate what wants to be rescued, inviting the theme that wants to be revealed.

A word has moved ever so gently in… and onto a Post-it Note where I can gaze upon it, and give it space to shape its essence.

I was visiting my parents this week. It was a good day, a good visit. I brought out their tin of photographs and let their memories come alive. I had mum write names on the back of the old tattered black and white photos.

I listened to tales of long long ago. Eager and attentive to catch glimpses of parts of them I never saw, never knew. Maybe I would learn something that would help in the making of sense.

Then my breath caught and my eyes wettened, not quite spilling over, but close. There in the listening grew a certain amount of anxiety in me, maybe even panic.

Their recollections… their memories… their sagas would soon be lost. Where would they go? What tales would I remember, or not remember, because so often in the grasping to hold near what is dear, it slips away.

Where do all of our lives… just us ordinary folks… the memories of them… where do they go? Generation after generation?

Does it matter? I don’t know.

But, I began to comprehend that there was so much that I didn’t yet know about them. At 92 and 88 time is running out for me to find out.

Short catching breaths.

What happens if our family tree dies off? Who will remember? So many precious moments… where do they go? What meaning do they have… in their having once been… and then no more?

Maybe I should make time for more visits. Maybe I should write these recollections down… capture them somehow. So much to be grateful for that I have been blind to all my life.

Where we hurt. Our trials, our suffering, our rage, our injustices.

What if they are meant to be our gift and our strength. If only we look up and see through the eyes of God’s love. We might see something altogether different.

In a world of words, I want just one. No flashy subtitles. Just one word.

Maybe… because…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

~ John 1:1

This one sentence, it speaks to me daily. It informs me in ways I do not understand yet. Somehow, I feel it defines my life, or the life that I am in the unfolding.

The Word… the word… it gives itself to me. It chases me. It’s so good to me. It presents itself as a mountain to climb and a living water to swim in. It creates me alive.

In a world of words, I want just one. May it be so.

I wonder… if you had a word that told your story, what would it be?

In abiding love,

Kiernan