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Words That Inspire 19

This week begins Children’s Book Week. While that’s a fantastic thing, it begs the question:

Why doesn’t EVERY DAY celebrate books and children?

Stories are what carry us through our lives. The stories we are told, the stories we tell. Stories passed on through families, generation after generation. Stories we hear and see and read that resonate with what it is to be human. What it is to be a part of a greater whole. What helps us cope and thrive and give back to others.

For those who know me, either in person, online, or via my blog, know that I’m a strong advocate for children, for children’s books, and for reading aloud to children. No matter how busy life becomes, parents must NEVER forget the crucial role books and reading aloud play in laying a firm foundation for young children.

And since no two people are identical, no two people have the same preferences for books. The same is true of children. Try out as many books as possible with young children to see what they love and want to re-read over and over. Seeing more diversity in today’s children’s books also helps to engage more and more readers. Plus don’t forget the classics, they are classics for a reason.

Read wide and deep with young children of ALL AGES. Read myths, fables, and fairy tales. Read stories that rhyme, stories that don’t, stories without words, and long stories that takes days and days to finish. Watch films that visually tell stories.

But more than anything, spend time with your children…EVERY DAY. Tell your children your own stories. Then embrace the HEART of why you tell stories when your growing children tell you theirs.

Common Sense Media [great place to find book and film recommendations]

NYPL 100 Children’s Books/ 100 Years

ALA’s List of Caldecott Winners

ALA’s List of Newbery Winners

Words That Inspire 18

And as National Poetry Month heads to a close in the upcoming week, a question still remains…What Is Poetry?

Academics and practicing poets for generations teach about form, syntax, alliteration, consonance, meter, rhyme, and stanza (to name a few). But terminology often renders objects from the viewpoint of being clinical and isolated. But poetry is anything BUT.

Poets and artists of all persuasions have tried to define poetry, often to much difficulty. Like scientists trying to define biological life or religion trying to define spirituality, the definition of poetry is in the eyes (and soul) of the beholder.

Carl Sandburg: “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”
Pablo Neruda: “Poetry is an act of peace.”
Leonard Cohen: “Poetry is just the evidence of life.”
Vincent Van Gogh: “One can speak poetry just by arranging colors well, just as one can say comforting things in music.”

The truth may be that poetry, in all its power, transcends words on paper. As someone who experiences synesthesia (see my post entitled “Number Six Burns Like An Orange Flame”), colors and numbers and letters and musical notes seem to cross paths with one another. No poem therefore can be simply made of words on paper, nor a painting simply pigment on canvas, nor even a symphony the auditory input received by the inner ear.

BBC’s Doctor Who program (a favorite show of mine), wrote an episode on Vincent Van Gogh, where it expresses how this artist saw the world in a much more complex way than most. A deeply and emotionally poetic way, I dare say. Here is the section that speaks to me most:

Perhaps poetry more than anything else is a state of emotion, whether it is obtained through reading the written word, hearing a concerto by Bach, engrossed in the music of a favorite singer-songwriter, or mesmerized by paintings that seem to transport the viewer to another dimension.

Yet can we further apply the word POETRY to describe historic architecture? A gorgeous sunset? A mathematical equation? An act of kindness? Some have described these things precisely in terms of poetry.

Where do we draw the line between poetry and beauty? Especially when both terms are in themselves difficult to define. Do we need to draw a line? Perhaps we can be more like Emily Dickinson and define poetry by saying, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

I vote in favor of broadening the definition of poetry. Let poetry, however you define it, feed your soul. Celebrate ALL the poetry in your life!

Words That Inspire 17

Boredom. We abhor it as if it were the flu. Or try to swat it away like we may a house fly. An unwelcome guest. A burden….But is it?

To be in a semi-inactive mental state while at the same time physically or emotionally restless describes somewhat how it feels to be bored. In today’s phone/internet/social media connected times, one would think boredom was an infrequent guest. But too much sensory input often poses as much (if not more) of a risk as too little input.

Taken objectively, boredom is simply a message. While there are many actual types of boredom (see my older post entitled “Boredom: Is Resistance Futile”), all types of boredom are reaching out to tap you on the shoulder to say “Hey, LISTEN!”

Boredom also has a fascinating history, as this wonderful Smithsonian article “The History Of Boredom” explains.

There are real benefits to our thinking and state of mind if we pay attention to boredom. The answer is not to solve boredom by removing it, but to just listen to what the boredom is trying to tell us. Perhaps we need a new goal, or a creative outlet, or an outside inspiration from nature or from someone else’s own life experiences. What we definitely don’t need (and take notice, parents)….is someone to tell us exactly how to solve our boredom. The solutions must come from within.

Too often students today are over-scheduled with homework and extra-curricular activities. A significant price is paid by the loss of pure downtime for the brain, the time needed to recharge and allow the brain to intuitively engage in creative thought. And not just creative thought, but also the process of making meaning of one’s life. The deep work of philosophy in the search for life’s meaning.

Of course too much downtime can be equally negative, and a significant risk factor in destructive behaviors and potentially resulting apathy. We forget that everything in life can be interesting and important to the the person who finds it so. We are made richer as a peoples by fully welcoming in our community both diversity of thought and diversity of interests.

So the answer to boredom may be a simple one. One we’ve been inadvertently denying many young children and students. The idea of autonomy. Everyone wants (and needs) the ability to freely follow their own interests. As a parent who homeschooled my child from kindergarten to college, I had the privilege of seeing first-hand how autonomy in even the youngest of children can unleash the positive power of boredom into the growth of a wide range of passions and interests, and ultimately happiness and life-long learning.

Simplifying life through the process of embracing boredom in the proper doses sure has a sneaky way of enriching life. So as a first step, consider undergoing a digital detox after reading my older post entitled “Disconnect To Reconnect” and be sure to welcome boredom into your life.

Words That Inspire 16

We are not all that different from trees.

Carbon-based. In need of light and nourishment. Mostly living in communities and communicating in our own languages. Battling the elements as we attempt to develop resilience. Yes, we are much like trees.

Yet perhaps the most important factor is…RESILIENCE. What is resilience and how can we develop it? Resilience is the ability to adapt to adversity, trauma, tragedy, and threats. Through resilience, we grow stronger, and more able to handle future stressors.

Such is it with trees. We see their wounds, gnarls, and scars, and admire their ability to strive towards sunlight and drink of the earth. They endure bitter cold, and blistering heat. They gift us with gorgeous shades of green and brown, some offer blossoms and fruit, and some shower us in rainbow colors in fall.

Many people are just like the trees. They suffer, they bounce back, and they give generously of themselves. In many, we can’t even see their scars. Their scars are on the inside. They are living human trees. We can learn a lot from them.

What makes a person – or a tree – grow resilient? What are the dangers that may prevent resilience?

Much study has been done and continues to be done in the field of resilience, as well as the effects of toxic stress and acute childhood events (ACEs) on children. To learn more about ACEs, I highly recommend The Resilience Project of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Childhood is the best time to instill the skillsets necessary for developing resilience. One easy to remember theory that I like is that by Kenneth Ginsburg, MD in his book BUILDING RESILIENCE IN CHILDREN AND TEENS: GIVING KIDS ROOTS AND WINGS.

In his book, Dr. Ginsburg describes in depth the SEVEN-C’s of Resilience.

  1. COMPETENCE: Building on children’s strengths, individuality, self-empowerment
  2. CONFIDENCE: Honest praise, growth mindset
  3. CONNECTION: Safety, security, healthy relationships
  4. CHARACTER: Development of morals, values, sense of unity with the human family
  5. CONTRIBUTION: Purpose, contribution to the whole of society, generosity
  6. COPING: Learning to deal with failure, stress
  7. CONTROL: Teaching that most outcomes are largely a result of good vs. bad choices

Now imagine again the tree. Striving for light and nourishment. How it seeks to survive in a complex world. How it copes. How it empowers itself to draw from the Earth. How it learns from failure, sometimes shifting its roots and branches in other more promising directions.

Like the trees, our children need enough room to grow, enough room to “spread their wings”. But most importantly, our children (like the trees) need sturdy roots. For without roots, no nourishment can be obtained. Parents are important components of these roots. We need to feed our children and grow their roots with unconditional love (light) and constant encouragement (nourishment).

Each and everyday.

Then…Watch them grow as fulfilled individuals in strength and in resilience.

ALSO: For more on how to help children cope with differing situations, consider these older blogs of mine here:

“Helping Parents Help Children In Traumatic Times” [on gun and other related violence]

“Right Here With You” [on death]

“Once Upon A Bedtime” [the roots we build by reading bedtime books with children]

Words That Inspire 15

Tick Tock…Tick Tock…

It’s less than TWO HOURS from the release of the Mueller Report. All eyes are on the outcome. Half the country believes the President is innocent of collusion and obstruction. Half the country wants him tarred and feathered.

How did we get here? How did this country become so divided? Why is the expectation that should the Mueller Report fully vindicate the President, there will be riots in the street and a continued disbelief in the report?

As a life-long liberal, and advocate for peace, I can no longer abide by the hate of the Democratic Party. The use by their members of symbolism to claim their moral superiority is tainted and wrong. In the not too distant past, there was outrage (and most rightfully so) to immediately associate a hoodie and a black individual with nefarious behavior. Now, it’s become a given to associate a Trump red hat with white supremacy. It’s become a given to associate the US flag with racism and all that is wrong in the country. It’s become a given to associate half the country (those who support the opposing GOP party) as lesser humans. Bigots. Sexists. Racists. Uneducated.

We now sit at a precipice where half the country (those opposing the President) will be strangely aggrieved and outraged if the President is found innocent. Who could possibly even want one’s national leader to be found guilty? This doesn’t bode well for our democracy nor our future.

These acts of moral indignation against the President and the GOP political party did not just come from nothing. They were fomented by big money and political power. And these acts are not just intermittent. The hate has been continuous since election day 2016. Protests (many violent), attacks against administration members, and attacks against citizens. Friendships have dissolved, as have marriages. Feuds between family members are a common occurrence. Jobs have been lost.

I come back to the question…How did we get here? And more importantly, will the US survive such divisiveness? How much could Congress and the Administration have accomplished in these nearly three years if they worked together for the American people instead of locking horns?

If the President is vindicated, will Congress now work together with the President to accomplish legislation? Or will they, as they’ve already indicated, continue their search for a person (that is, the President) to fit a crime?

Whatever the outcome of today’s Mueller Report…the losers are undoubtedly the American people. Hate is an acid that destroys. There may be no turning back. The damage is done.

Consider reading my post about the 2016 Election entitled “A November To Remember”

Words That Inspire 14

We imagine life in snapshots. Still. Permanent. Solid. But life and all it encompasses is more like a flowing river. Twisting every which way. Sometimes rushing. Sometimes softly silent.

Sometimes the river is full of life, with burbling waters, fish, turtles, and wildlife all around. There are nesting birds, and blooming plants. The songs of the river sing loud.

But life, like the river, has its seasons. Each one different. Each one a story-filled chapter. There is drama, suspense, humor, romance….and tragedy.

This week we all witnessed a communal tragedy in the fires of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. The stories Notre Dame Cathedral hold for millions and over many centuries still exist, despite the devastation from the fire. But, like life, the future of Notre Dame Cathedral will no longer be exactly the same, even as France is committed to rebuilding the Cathedral. The old stories will continue to be told, but now there will also be many new stories. In some ways the Cathedral represents on large scale the idea of wabi sabi. Impermanence. Imperfection. Change.

Wabi sabi is all around us, and within us. As we age, we feel the essence of wabi sabi more sharply. In our limitations. In our physical transitions. We are part of our larger world. Much like the mountain in my personal haiku image above, our world tells the story of our strength, endurance, humanity, and struggles. Knowing this gives us freedom.

We are moving pictures, not snapshots. And everything is in transition. And everything is beautiful.

Take a moment to read my post on wabi sabi entitled “Beautiful Imperfections”

Today is also International Haiku Day, a project of the Haiku Foundation.

Words That Inspire 13

Do you appreciate your life? The people with whom you share it?

Do you have a purpose you are passionate about?

Do you regularly experience gratitude?

Gratitude is not just a moment of thanksgiving we acknowledge every November. Gratitude is a way of seeing. A way of being. Gratitude not only improves life, but it also reveals the vast importance of the small things. Gratitude also improves the immune system, helps alleviate stress and depression, and can lead to better health and sleep. Gratitude can bring focus to our lives. Gratitude bridges the gap that sometimes separates us from others.

Gratitude is a magic pill of sorts. No co-pay and it is available to anyone. No promises, however, that gratitude isn’t addictive. But if one is to fall into addiction, I can think of none better than to be forever grateful.

Take a moment. Breath in. Breath out. And re-visit the questions that begin this post. If the answers don’t bring you satisfaction and gratitude, ask yourself why.

Then ask yourself if being grateful can actually help you find your answers.

Words That Inspire 12

To say our world has many challenges is an understatement. But so much good exists. Even in the darkest times, there is incredible light.

In my “Words That Inspire 10” post, I cited both an article and a TED.com talk discussing how the world by all indicators is actually getting better. What isn’t included in the analysis is what we ourselves can freely offer to our children to show to them a world of goodness.

As an analogy, we grow strong plants by not just watering them, but even more so by allowing them frequent exposure to light. Light nourishes in ways water never ever can.

For children, kindness is a light. Hope is a light. Love is light. Making meaningful stories accessible to children (and also reading aloud when able) is a light. Children learn much about life by observing the words and behaviors of the adults around them. Children need adults to help them navigate our complex world. Children can learn to cope with and rise above life’s many challenges not through greed or hate or anger, but instead through expressions of kindness, hope, love, as well as through the power of story.

Be a light for a child. Nothing is more important. Ignite your world with good.

Words That Inspire 11

Anyone who is fluent in more than one language has taken notice of how some words hold profound cultural meanings that cannot always be easily translated into other languages. This is true of both living languages and ancient languages. Invented languages, such as those by Tolkien, also share with readers a richly imagined world all through the utilization of…WORDS.

The best writers of all genre pay close heed to the sound and meaning of words. A single word can change so much.

It is often estimated that the average native-speaking person knows approximately 45,000 words by adulthood, though on a daily basis may only use 7,000 per day (and for many, far less). Knowing how our use of words and language are affected by our use of technology is one interesting area of study. Language is a living and breathing entity, always changing.

After all, in this short 5 minute TED.com lecture, the speaker John McWhorter poses the question “Are Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki, and Na’vi real languages?”

So sit back, grab a book, or listen to a lecture, and relax. Let the writers and poets and speakers of the world continue to capture our hearts and minds through their carefully (and often uniquely) chosen words.

Also consider reading my post entitled, “Some Words On Words”

Words That Inspire 10

Listen to the news anchors and the chatter on social media, and one would be inclined to believe we are living in a time when all the best days are far behind us. Anger and fear leads people to jump to the conclusion that society (and perhaps even the entire globe) is on the edge of dystopia.

Quite the contrary is true. Despite the endless negativity, the world as a whole is actually a better place now than in past times. Yes, there still are wars, misery, and poverty, but in overall numbers things are looking brighter. But don’t take my word for it.

Take a listen to Steven Pinker’s TED.com talk entitled, “Is The World Getting Better Or Worse?”

Then read PEW Research’s article “Globally Is Life Better Today Than In The Past?”

Finally…Just take a long deep breath, put up your feet, and shed the darkness that surrounds you. Then consider reading my post “Illuminating Light”

We often see what we expect to see. So seek the good. See the good.