Tag Archives: Reflection

June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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June 10 – Human Connections

by Ariela Zucker

I stir my morning coffee and while the milk swirls and changes the color from dark brown to tan I reflect on a sentence that I read on the front page of Yahoo.

“Human connections are important. Try to encompass at least ten of them every day.”

I wonder if I can accomplish this challenge without leaving my home on this dreary rainy day.
1.  The first thing I do is look at my cellphone: David from 7 cups is looking for me.
2.  I log into the site that connects volunteer listeners and members who need a captive listening ear. David and I have a short conversation about his aspirations to take on the world. He says he likes to talk to me, and this time he ends the conversation by himself. I joke about “David and Goliath;” he gets it and sends a smiley.
3.  I check my online writing group, no one responded to my last post, so I move on.
4.  I send the daily Hebrew word to Sara. Later she will send me a letter composed of these words. Today’s word: The eye of the storm. She texts me a thumbs-up.
5.  An email from Beth. She just found in her DNA test that we are third cousins twice removed and is overcome with excitement. I suggest a few possible surnames for her to check. “None fits,” she writes back, adding an icon of a sad face.
6.  An unknown caller from Honolulu. A formal, somewhat scary male voice announces that I should call back in the next 10 minutes; otherwise, the police will intervene. I know it is a prank call, but for a brief moment, it stops my breathing, what if it is true?
Fifty-five minutes passed, and I scored six interactions, I am pleased and reward myself with another cup of coffee and a donut.
7. In my Facebook, I find two birthday announcements and a picture from two years ago of my dog the day we got him. I send birthday wishes and marvel at how small he was only a short time ago.
8.  I sit down to write a long-delayed letter to my pen pal in Scotland. We’ve been corresponding for over twenty years. We’re doing it in the good old-fashioned way; paper, envelope, stamp then a long wait.
9.  My daughter calls to ask for a recipe. I pull out my cookbook that is held together with will power and sticky fingers and read the ingredients to her. This is an old recipe my mother used to make. I am happy to pass it on and keep the generational food connection alive.
10. Outside on my bird-feeder, yellow Goldfinch shares the grains with a small red squirrel. Above them, on a bent branch, a blazing red Cardinal performs its warning metallic chip. Patches of bright colors against the gray backdrop. I snap a quick picture. Later I will post it on Facebook.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

June 3 – A Close Look at Guilt

by Sara Etgen-Baker

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©CanStockPhoto/racorn

Guilt and worry are perhaps the most common forms of my personal distress. With guilt I focus on a past event, feeling dejected, hurt, or angry about something that I did or said, and use up my present moments being occupied with feelings over past behavior. With worry, I use up my valuable nows, obsessing over a future event. Whether looking back or looking forward, the result is the same: I’m throwing away the present. Why would I do such a thing, and where does my need for guilt and worry come from?

Like most of you, I’ve been subjected to a conspiracy of guilt in my lifetime, an uncalculated plot to turn me into a veritable guilt machine. The machine works something like this: Someone sends me a message designed to remind me that I’ve somehow been a bad person because of something I said or didn’t say, felt or didn’t feel, did or didn’t do. I respond by feeling bad in the present moment, becoming the guilt machine; a walking, talking, breathing invisible contraption that responds with guilt whenever the appropriate fuel is poured into me. And, I am a well-oiled guilt machine, for I’ve been totally immersed in our guilt-producing culture.

Why have I bought into the worry and guilt messages that have been laid upon me over the years? Largely because I’ve bought into my inculturation that says I’m “bad” if I don’t feel guilty, and “inhuman” if I don’t worry. It all has to with caring and what caring looks like to other people. The subtle message seems to be, “If I really care about anyone or anything, then I must show this concern by feeling guilty about the terrible thing(s) I’ve done, or by giving some visible evidence that I’m concerned their future by worrying and fretting about them.

For me, guilt is not merely a concern with the past; it’s a vicious cycle producing present-moment immobilization about a past event. The degree of immobilization can run from being mildly upset to being depressed. Let me be clear. Learning from my past and vowing to avoid repeating some specific behavior is not guilt. Guilt occurs when I prevent myself from taking action now as a result of having behaved a certain way in the past.

Learning from my mistakes is healthy and a necessary part of my growth and personal responsibility. Guilt, on the other hand, is unhealthy because I’m using up my energy in the present feeling hurt, upset, and even depressed about a historical happening. In that sense, guilt seems like such a useless emotion. It’s futile and unhealthy. I must remember, therefore, that no amount of guilt on my part can ever undo anything, and no amount of worrying can change the future.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

 

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May 28 – Lesson From a Pothole

by Teresa Lynn

©CanStockPhoto /marcbruxelle

There is a corner coming into my neighborhood that for some reason always has a pothole. Two or three times a year it gets filled in, but always within a few weeks, the pothole is back. If you don’t give wide berth on that corner, you’ll get the jarring experience of a wheel in the crater.

Naturally, folks in the neighborhood don’t like the pothole. It’s unsightly, but that’s not what most people have against it. They’re more put out with the fact that you have to slow way down to miss the hole but still make the turn. I admit I felt the same way for a long time.

Then one day as I approached that corner after a rain, I saw two mallards, a male, and a female, at the edge of the pothole. They were taking turns getting a drink. I stopped the car and watched for several moments until they drank their fill and waddled away.

Not long after that, while the pothole still held water, I saw a squirrel drinking from it. Squirrels are nothing uncommon, no matter where you live, but that was the first time in my half a century of living I’d ever seen one getting a drink. The same day, a grackle bathed in the hole.

I began to think that maybe the pothole wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Then I remembered that this is Texas; drought-prone country. When it was no longer a puddle but merely a wheel-catcher, what good would the hole be?

The answer came several days later. The rain had all dried up, even in the ruts and ditches. Driving out of my neighborhood, I glanced down and saw a post lizard sunning itself. Down in the pothole, it was safe from passing vehicles.

Now, I make it point to see what’s at the pothole whenever I pass. Often, there’s nothing. But sometimes I’m surprised by a chance encounter with nature. That wouldn’t happen if I didn’t have to slow down and pay attention. Wonder what I’d see if I slowed down and paid attention all the time?

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Teresa Lynn is a writer and editor with a background in journalism. She has written for a range of publications and authored two books under her own name, as well as ghostwriting several works. In 2014, Teresa helped establish Tranquility Press, where she now provides all types of editorial services. She blogs at http://henscratches.blogspot.com/.

 

 

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May 20 – A GIRL, A BICYCLE, A LIBRARIAN, AND A MAGICAL SPELL

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I often mounted my bicycle and sped down the street, my hair whipping back as I let my feet off the pedals and flew down the hill at a speed rivaling a cheetah. When I reached the point where the street curved, I slammed on the brakes hoping the unevenly worn brake pads would bring me to a stop just as I neared the library’s front entrance.

I dismounted and pushed open the library’s heavy door, walked across the tiled chessboard floor, and tossed a penny in the fountain before climbing the stairs to the main hall where I encountered Miss Talbot, the head librarian.

Miss Talbot was a decipherer of secret codes, master of index cards, maven of the Dewey Decimal System, and sorceress all wrapped into one tiny human being. I truly believed she was a mind reader or, at the very least, part magician the way she could find whatever I was looking for; many times before I asked.

“You’re allowed to check out ten books at a time,” she always said rather matter-of-factly.

“I’ll take ten books home with me,” I replied in an elated voice, signing the borrower’s card inside each one.

“Return these by the due date.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said reassuringly.

I can still feel their weight in my arms as I lugged them downstairs and heaved them into my bike’s saddlebags. The books I checked out allowed me to magically travel through time and contact the dead; Anne Frank, Louisa May Alcott, L. Frank Baum, and so many more.

On chilly winter nights, I accompanied Nancy Drew as she gathered clues and unraveled mysteries. On soft, promising green spring days Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost taught me about the worthy art of poetry, giving me a sense of what is beautiful about the world. I also cherished those warm, lazy summer afternoons spent in the library escaping August’s sultry heat and breathing in the stale, sun-warmed dust of a thousand stories. The library was the perfect place to go whenever I felt unhappy, bewildered, or undecided. Inside books, I found encouragement, comfort, answers, and guidance.

A great deal of who I became is based upon my visits to the quiet, unassuming library; lit up during winter darkness and open in the slashing rain allowing a girl like me to experience actual magic. Each time I ventured inside and opened the cover of a book I wondered what I might find inside. Where would I go? Whom would I meet?

The stories I read were powerful, for they either sent me back in time or forward into the future and frequently transported me to other lands where I met ogres and talking rabbits. Some of my best friends I found between the covers of the books I checked out at the library using my simple library card. Even now when I enter a library and open a book, I fall under an enchanting spell, and I never want the spell to be broken.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she rediscovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

April 29 – Inner Landscapes

by Ariela Zucker

“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” Charles Lindbergh

On the road to my daughter’s home, this morning, I drive by the river. I look at its shimmering blue, now that it got freed from the winter ice hold. I never lived by a river, I never woke up to look at its slow up and down movement, how the changes of the seasons are reflected in the water’s color and flow. I never lived next to the ocean in proximity that enabled me to listen to the waves break on the shore and watch the white foam unfurl on the sand, then backwash. But I did live in the desert and was captured by its palate of colors and desolate beauty, and for a short time, I lived at the foothills of the Rocky mountains and savored the infinite sea of green.

I easily connect to symbols and metaphors that originate in the world of natural scenes and concrete landscapes. A mountain, a stream, the ocean, the vast unending desert, they go right into me and stir up the words. The external landscapes evoke an intense resonance inside me. Often, they revive images long forgotten, and with that, they bring in their wake a sense of ambivalence that never leaves me and going back and force between two homelands just makes it stronger.

The air in one feels so soft around me, the sounds, the smells, and the colors familiar and with the people who knew me from the day I was born I share a common history, going back thousands of years. But most of all it is the language; that wraps around me caressing, accepting, signaling “here you are never foreign.”

Then I think about the soft snow cascade of white, and the spring eruption of colors. The luscious green of the warm summer days and the blazing reds of fall.

Which of these landscapes is mine, which one reflects on my life? Where is my vantage point of distance? The one that will enable me to see my life with clarity and precision? Or perhaps I am the lucky one. For a few months each year I get to change my distance and with this change alter my vantage point of view. As a writer, I get to describe that point of view in words.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.