The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

Today’s post wraps up the contest entries. Thank you to all the people who added a little positivity to The Green Study in the month of October!

In November, I know many people will disappear into the deep hole of NaNoWriMo. While I won’t be participating this year, as I have a work-in-progress, I’ll be furiously writing away, word counts be damned. Take a breather and stop by here for some encouragement, a laugh or just a sympathetic, weary nod of agreement. I’ll be posting throughout the month, taking breathers from the novel. Best wishes to you all!

canstockphoto14284461Last, but not least, is an Honorable Mention post by Alison at Adventures in Wonderland, whose entry “Sometimes We Take For Granted Those Who Are Most Important To Us” is self-explanatory.

Alison is carrying on her nomadic journeys, so she received an e-postcard from Minnesota and $25 was donated to the Red Cross on her behalf.

Sometimes We Take For Granted Those Who Are Most Important To Us

By Alison at Adventures in Wonderland

This morning I said to my husband Don:

Michelle at The Green Study is having a story contest. She wants a 400 to 800-word piece about something positive, and I can’t think of a single thing to write about. It’s been sitting with me for a week and I can’t think of anything.

I’m almost always positive. I’m one of those annoying Pollyanna types who sees the good in everything, and I couldn’t think of anything to write about.

He looked at me and said: Write about me! With a big grin on his face.

At first I was bewildered, and didn’t know how to react, or how to let him down kindly. It didn’t seem to remotely fit the required theme. Don was still grinning.

canstockphoto31001917Then I read out loud the requirements: a positively happy nice incident, an admirable person in your life, unwitting luck or fortunate consequences. Bingo! He fulfills all the categories – for me he is a continuous positively happy nice incident, being with him is the biggest piece of unwitting luck or fortunate consequences to ever happen to me, and I admire him enormously. Here’s why:

Don is a kind man. It’s not that he never gets upset with others but his basic nature is one of kindness. He is sensitive to his environment and to others. He mostly wants to feel good and to have others feel good. He questions his place in the world but at the same time is one of the wisest people I know. He always goes to the heart of the matter, looking for deeper meaning than the waves on the surface. He is not afraid to look with open eyes into his own depths and to clear what needs to be cleared. He is not afraid to feel his feelings. He is always pursuing authenticity.

He is steady and organized and takes care of business. He never puts things off, but sees to what needs to be done in a better than timely manner. I’m a procrastinator, but not Don. He’s always on top of everything and helps me to be as well.

My Don is a good good man who takes care of me, but at the same time allows me to be canstockphoto7166839myself. He makes few demands. He’s committed to clear communication and authenticity, and he chooses love. Even in the face of discord he chooses love. He chooses the path of courage to face the truth, courage to be seen no matter how shameful it may be, courage to stand his ground in things that matter to him. He says clearly what he wants and needs. At the same time he can be flexible, bending like the willow, his roots firmly planted, but branches flying free when the situation demands it. He’s willing to admit when he’s been wrong.

He has many qualities I admire, but I think above all I admire his commitment to the truth. I don’t mean the scientific truth, I mean his own deeply felt truth – the truth in his heart and soul and body about what’s right or not for him, and his quiet determination to live by that.

He’s intelligent and thoughtful, and a good listener even if I sometimes have to start with: pay attention to me now.

Plus he’s funny. When I wonder out loud from time to time how on earth he puts up with me he says it’s because he’s a living saint.

So I read to him what I’ve written. Later we’re out for a walk and start talking about it. He says he never knew I thought that way about him. I guess I need to be more communicative. Anyway, I say: I constantly admire and appreciate and enjoy you. And you let me!

To which he replied: It’s my best trick.

So I get to spend my days with the person I admire the most, and I didn’t even think to write about him. Sometimes we take for granted those who are most important to us.

Congratulations Alison!

Here’s an Adventures in Wonderland sampler:

Do You Want a Home or Do You Want a Life?

The Nile Forever New and Old – Cruising from Aswan to Luxor

Endless Beauty: The Glory of New Zealand

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

An Honorable Mention goes to Cathy over at Healing Through Connection. Her essay “Don’t Give Up!” made me think about caregivers in any capacity and how important it is to reconnect with joy on a regular basis in order to continue caring for others.

She was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a unnecessary Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on her behalf.

Don’t Give Up!

By Catherine Cheng, MD at Healing Through Connection

We could not have planned a more uplifting conclusion to our workshop if we tried.

canstockphoto4619305Eileen and Liz, my rock star colleagues from New Mexico and I, presented a seminar on institutional strategies for physician well-being at the International Conference on Physician Health last month.  The two of them have done this for a while.  They generously invited me to participate this time, as we had collaborated on a Grand Rounds series on physician wellness last year.  This was day two of the conference and we were already jubilant from communing with Our People, the Tribe of Healers trying to heal our profession.

We had the data.  Investing in physician well-being improves patient care, decreases physician errors, and increases patient satisfaction.  We knew it would be a friendly audience.  Still, we struggled to frame a role play exercise that would reliably help our colleagues make the case to their leaders that funding programs in physician health would ‘pay off.’  We came up with cases.  We had a back-up plan in case nobody volunteered.  But how could we really engage the crowd?  Most people loathe role play, especially before a group of strangers.

I had ideas to break the ice.  We could preface the exercise with communication techniques from two of my favorite TED talks.  The first was by Nancy Duarte: The Secret Structure of Great Talks.  A core tenet of any great presentation, she says, is to make the audience the hero.  We must engage our leaders with a call to adventure, inviting them to embark on a journey of discovery and triumph, leaving them with a sense of empowerment, ready to heed the call to action.  As a primary care physician, it struck me that this approach resembles counseling patients on health behavior change using motivational interviewing.  Rather than coming at our leaders with complaints and demands, we can instead come alongside them with observations and counsel.  This method would tap our deep capacities for empathy and connection, which were core values endorsed throughout the conference already.

The second practice, based on the talk commonly referred to as “Power Posing” by Amy Cuddy, would help people feel more confident while presenting to leadership.  Cuddy’s research shows that taking more expansive, upright postures helps people feel more powerful, and improves performance in high pressure situations, such as job interviews.  I stood like Wonder Woman in front of my hotel mirror for ten minutes before my presentation at the University of New Mexico last year, and I am convinced it helped me stay grounded and self-assured throughout my talk.  We could have the whole audience power pose before the role play!

When Eileen finished presenting the wealth of evidence for promoting physician well-being, it was my turn to inspire workshop attendees.  I wanted to light the fires of excitement, spark their imaginations, and help them bear the flames of commitment home to engage their leaders.  I mustered my own passion for clear, strong, confident communication.  We were here to empower one another, and I was going to lead by example.

chengpost2The audience responded with enthusiasm and joy.  We did one short role play, and then people just started openly sharing.  Some asked for practical advice, like how do we actually bring it up in a meeting?  Others told us what had already worked for them, such as aligning physician well-being with existing strategic plans around improving patient safety and decreasing physician turnover.  The overwhelming atmosphere in the room radiated generosity, collaboration, and shared mission.  It felt warm and hopeful.

As time ran out, Ted stood up and asked to make one last comment.  “Don’t give up,” he said.  He had been doing this work for twelve years, since before the phrase ‘physician well-being’ existed.  He had witnessed the evolution of technology and its deleterious impact on our work and our relationships.  This gave him the perspective we all needed.  He testified to the turning of the tide, the rising swell of attention and dedication to buoy physicians up from the undertow of burnout.  He, the veteran physician advocate, told us three that our workshop made his registration fee for the whole conference worthwhile.  He could not have offered a higher compliment.  Liz, Eileen and I stepped out that afternoon each feeling a little taller, a little more like Wonder Woman.

Ironically, prior to the conference, I had given up on my leaders.  But my own presentation taught me a new lesson in humility and partnership.  I have since re-engaged, and I feel hopeful again.chengpost1

Don’t give up.

Stay on the Path.

We can make a difference.

We will change the world.

Congratulations Dr. Cheng!

Here’s a Healing Through Connection sampler:

Who Are You and Why Have You Come?

AtoZChallenge: Every Day a Revolution

So You Want to Lose Weight: The Four A’s of Goal Setting

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

canstockphoto14284461An Honorable Mention goes to Bill over at pinklightsabre. His essay “The Expectations of Joy” reminds us to recognize joy in the moment it happens, because it can so often be fleeting.

He was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a goofy Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on his behalf.

 The Expectations of Joy

By Bill at pinklightsabre

Joy is so rare and unexpected, on the opposite side of dread, which by definition seems to last longer. It’s why it’s so hard to find on Christmas morning or your wedding day because you expect it, but joy comes on its own terms. It’s like something you spot outside your window but by the time you go for your camera, it’s gone. And it doesn’t photograph well, you have to be there.

There was my uncle Frank who lived alone, never married, worked the post office, dressed in camo vests and khakis, bright orange hunter’s caps. I saw him maybe once a year growing up and the last time, a couple years ago when he was too old to drive, when Dawn and I had to give him a ride home, a good hour and a half through the folds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, eastern Pennsylvania.

It was Eastertime and there was a lot of food and drinking, and we decided around 9 it was time to go. My dad and his brother warned me not to listen to Frank give advice about the route. The route was pretty clear, but Frank would try to tell us otherwise.

canstockphoto15356468We got in the car and put Frank in the back, who was maybe early 80s then. Dawn drove, and we started small talk with Frank. It was about the towns and roads and interstate, the past construction projects, what had changed. Frank started deviating from the route as expected, and I went to hush him, to tamp him down, but Dawn agreed to follow his direction. It occurred to us in the front seat that this was about all Frank had left, his memory of how to get home, and could we allow him some bit of control over that.

The family was worried about Frank but not in an actionable sense. They said his plumbing had gone out so he was using a coffee can to pee in and going to the grocery store to do the rest. There was a sinkhole in his front yard they had taped off (all the houses were built on or near mining excavations, it seemed).

When we neared his house it was pushing 10:30 but Frank offered we could stop for a pizza, he’d buy, they were open another half an hour still. But we’d eaten all day and really just wanted to get home, and declined. We waited for Frank to make his way into the house and turn on some lights and off we went back to the interstate, the way we intended to go, that saved us about 15 minutes.

It had gotten so that I saw Frank about once every five years now. He was the same, a bit knobby with big, marbly eyes and whiskers, balding, but a good smile, still the same. I remembered him as a kid around Christmas, he would show up with presents he’d wrapped himself, a lot of Scotch tape, and it seemed strange receiving gifts from him, we were so disjointed, we weren’t really close.

The gifts were always practical things he’d gotten at Sears or Penney’s (tube socks, underwear, sometimes a belt), and I’d catch Frank flushing up and looking away, smiling, when I opened them. I think it was a bit of joy he felt then, though small. I thought about it and wished we had stopped for pizza maybe, but joy is like that too, it can’t be manufactured or revised, it comes and goes.

canstockphoto6034965I was on the beach at the lake near our house with my dog throwing the ball, watching her waggle her tail, stretch, how the digits in her paws extend in the pebbles, how dogs seem to smile. There was the time when I was working my boss asked in a mid-year review what brought me joy in my job (it was a popular word at the time), and the silence became lifelike between us, I filled it with half-truths, and what followed felt like dread but it’s true, once you go down that far it’s like touching the bottom of a pool, and maybe then you can work your way up.

We were in a conference room no bigger than a telephone booth, with just a phone, a clock, a table and two chairs, and it had the feel of whatever vagueness or tension preceded us the meeting before. And we left our own for the next occupants.

My joy comes from writing, payback for all the wonder I see in the world, a way of honoring it. Like joy, it feels best when you expect less, to not put too much on it. And maybe that’s why it feels so good, once it’s revealed, joy turns its back to visit someone else.

Congratulations Bill!

Enjoy a little pinklightsabre sampler:

That Last Christmas in Cork

Closure, cynosure

How the Rock Bands Formed the Alps 

Getting Lost on Purpose

Yesterday I got lost driving in St. Paul. My husband swears we should never cross the river that divides the Twin Cities. He’s gotten lost as well. Jesse Ventura, the former infamous governor of Minnesota, once insulted the city on national television by suggesting it was designed by Irish drunks (I imagine the Irish were insulted as well!).

canstockphoto9422901Getting lost has never caused me undue anxiety, especially since we bought a car with navigation – except it will fritz out at critical junctures in the journey. I have learned to just work on getting back to where I came from, doing u-turns in cul-de-sacs and slowing down to squint at street signs. It’s how I learn to find my way around.

When we traveled the west coast this year, I realized that having access to internet reviews, maps, pictures, and descriptions of every locale and hotel changed the nature of travel. I was rarely lost, surprised or delighted by the planned stops. I had to look for those moments.

In everyday life, the thrum-thrum of routine and picayune worries means that I have to look for those moments daily. Sometimes I think it will be this way until I’m found lifeless, slumped in my wheelchair at a nursing home. Sometimes I think any tragedy and ten years down the road, I’d be living a completely different life – that thinking awful thoughts will prick my appreciation for the sameness of this moment.

Moments are found in the knocking of a woodpecker, who is grocery shopping in the wood of our grayed deck railing. Or in an autumn memory flash of crunching through the leaves, while walking my chatty, happy 4-year-old to preschool years ago. Or hearing a piece of music that reminds me of new love and mix tapes.

canstockphoto4603487Sometimes though, we have to deliberately create those moments. We have to snatch up the defribrillator paddles and apply them in earnest. Wake up. Do something. Bring on the discomfort. I’ve done this over the years – trying improv comedy in my 30s, taking up martial arts in my 40s, public speaking, swimsuits and often saying no. I’ve been getting lost, been foolish, tried things not recommended at home, gone without a net, safety glasses, an umbrella or warm socks.

There is something I have not done. I have not dared to do anything beyond blogging with my writing.  I have a novel that I wrote the first draft of 4 years ago, that I’ve rewritten twice, renamed thrice and shredded in fits of pique. Then I decided to sign up canstockphoto14879538for a writers’ pitch conference taking place next spring. At this conference, I am supposed to pitch a polished novel manuscript to agents from three literary agencies.

Five months. I have five months to finish the cursed manuscript, fly it past beta-readers, get it to an editor and then hand over what remains to complete strangers. I want to throw up just a bit. But there it is – I’m awake and can no longer hit the snooze button.

**********

It hung precariously to the tile. Only I didn’t see it until I was washing my hair. With no glasses on, it was something that didn’t match the pattern on the wall. And it moved. I shifted the shower head so I could stand facing the spider, further away. We eyed each other with dismay.

canstockphoto6967523There is always a moment, facing the creepy crawlies that invade our house, of decision. Their benign attempts to coexist are met with shrieks by the large, destructive predatory inhabitants. We are the elephants and they are the mice, and we shrink away.

I remembered many years ago, reading about Buddhist monks who tread paths carefully, lest they step on an ant. I began to walk more carefully.

When my daughter was younger, we’d pantomime saving the spider. We’d use an index card and a cup, removing the arachnid from its ancestral home, depositing it gently outside to roam free. The reality is that most house spiders die shortly after being deposited into the elements.

Then came the shrieking phase and all she wanted was the monster dead, which had always been my gut instinct anyway. It seemed more humane, casting a dark human shadow, a quick crushing end to its life. I am the monster.

**********

I went to a poetry reading by Billy Collins a week ago and left feeling that I could write poetry. Until I tried to and was reminded that I was wrong. Over the years, I’ve read more poetry. I keep imagining that my ever-shrinking attention span would be a benefit, but it’s not. Poetry is an economy of language and done well, requires one’s full attention.

canstockphoto15817518Serving as US Poet Laureate for several years, Billy Collins writes what is often called “accessible poetry”. He describes it as unashamedly suburban, middle class,  and domestic. One of my fears is that I, and by extension my writing, am suburban, middle class and domestic. My childhood working class prejudices make me shrink from that description. Who we are now, though, informs our writing as much as who we were. It’s a good lesson to remember – creativity on a continuum.

One of the things I love most about living in a metropolitan area is the ability to attend a wide range of authors’ lectures. I enjoy hearing about their writing processes and experiences. Sometimes, though, they mostly let their work stand on its own. Mr. Collins read his poetry with only slight interjections in between each work. This seems novel in an age where self profession has become a genre all its own.

**********

canstockphoto14284461Thank you to Kiri, Ross, and Cezanne for your winning entries in The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest. Nothing like some positive vibes to stave off this depressing political season! Stay tuned next week for the Honorable Mention entries from Catherine, Bill, and Alison.

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 3rd Place

canstockphoto142844613rd Prize goes to Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab for “The Love of a Grandfather”. Her essay made me think about the nature of sacrifice and service on behalf of others. Who paved the road for us? And how will we pave the road for others?

She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a scenic Minnesota postcard. I also made a $50 donation to the Philippine Red Cross.

The Love of a Grandfather

By Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab

My grandfather used to tease me of being called “pugad de nilgab” or a granddaughter pulled out from the ashes of burned pine tree. Among his granddaughters, I have the darkest complexion. Nevertheless, I am my grandfather’s favourite granddaughter, that is according to my cousins. I did not know, he never mentioned but I do remember that he always try his best to give my small request. During fiestas, my aunts and elder cousins beg me to ask money for cotton candy and I do not fail them.

canstockphoto35886275My grandfather is a strong man and loves his family. He always tells me the story of his experience as a soldier during the dark ages of the Second World War. I even memorized the marching songs they sung. I also memorized their love story with my grandmother which he always tells me before bedtime. Most of the time, I slept with them with grandma because I want more of his stories. He has 20 “carabaos”* and I was always with him in feeding them and looking when 1 or 2 are astray. When we go home from the mountain after feeding the carabaos, he would carry me on his shoulders. I did not have the best friends aside from my school friends, but I had my grandpa.

One time, he was trying to memorize the colours of the American Flag including the president and I sat beside him and help him memorize. I never knew that he would leave us to the US, having the privilege as a veteran. I cried when he went away. His parting words were as always, it’s for you and your cousins’ schooling.

I went to college and he goes home every other year, and I was happy, but never again did I ask for money. I hoped that he would just go home and he could stay with us and never again, to see my grandmother cry at night when I sleep with her because she is alone in their room. I graduated college and asked him to come home. He told me he has to stay so that he could support my dream of becoming a lawyer.

He always dreamed when we were walking on the mountains looking for carabaos that I would be a lawyer. But, I did continue because I love the degree I finished and wanted to have job and show him that I can support my siblings and cousins so that he could come home. I had my first job in 2006 as a Social Worker in a Temporary home for abused children, and was happy to tell him how I love my job and how his stories has inspired the children. I waited and he came home lifeless August of 2006. My cousins and I finished our studies a cousin is a practicing doctor in the US, the other is a psychologist at the same time a teacher while my others are nurses and pharmacist.

canstockphoto2692257My grandfather’s dream was for us to finish our education and according to him “I must do everything that my grandchildren will not taste the hardship that my children (our parents) has experience due to lack of education”. I cannot forget my grandfather because of his love and devotion. His love to support us was not ended with my cousins rebellion, not ended with my non continuing of becoming a lawyer but pressed on to support every grandchildren who has a dream and inspire those whom he think needs inspiration.

“Every minute is an opportunity for me to help my grandchildren to realize their dreams, if I have to plant trees and sell as many as I can, I will! If I have to dig and look for a pot of gold, I will! If I have to sell my carabao, I will! Lived away from them, I will! I never want them to taste the pain of being uneducated and to bear the scourging heat of the sun from dust to dawn working ground yet with no progress. I love them.”   Eusebio Banggalat

* Water Buffalo in the Philippines

Congratulations Cezanne!

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 2nd Place

canstockphoto142844612nd Prize goes to Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens for “The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness”. His essay is a gentle reminder of how we impact each other with even the simplest of acts.

He was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and an extraneous Minnesota postcard. I also made a $75 donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness

By Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens

I’m a big believer in balance: work-life balance, balanced diet, balance beams. There’s no cause without effect and no effect without a cause.

Consequently, I don’t expect people to be especially kind to me, because I generally feel I’ve done little to deserve it.

It’s not that I’m so filled with self-loathing and covert kitten-kicking that I think I’m unworthy of basic human decency. It’s that most of the time I feel I haven’t done anything exceptional to warrant anything exceptional being done for me.

It’s about that balance, karma if you will. In the balance of my life, I shouldn’t expect kindness. I should expect impatient tolerance, exasperated benevolence, begrudging kindness at best.

I suspect a lot of (neurotic, insecure) people feel this way about themselves, this sort of reverse entitlement. One of my favourite literary characters is Frank Bascombe, who has grown middle-aged and old in four novels by Richard Ford. Frank is always questing, but I think his quest can be summed up like this: be a decent man and try not to be an asshole. There are worse quests. I’m a bit of a Frank.

Yet despite my inner asshole, people are kind to me, considerably kind, and it always takes me by surprise.

canstockphoto6410730Earlier this summer, I hired my neighbour Clint to replace some rotting wood on our front porch, a job that required the tools, know-how and patience for measuring that I lacked. Clint came over, dug out the rot, replaced it, smoothed the join, tacked on some molding, job well done. “How much?” I asked. He waved me off. Ten bucks for the wood and glad to help.

“No, really,” I said. “I asked you because I was going to pay you, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, so I paid him the $10, plus, at my wife’s suggestion, beer, because sometimes beer is even better than money.

There’s more. This summer, friends and strangers answered my Kickstarter appeal to finance the printing of yet another self-published book the world absolutely does not need. They did so without any evidence that I can write fiction, other than my word for it, which could have been a fiction in itself.

The publisher of the newspaper that runs my weekly column recently served as my unofficial agent in setting up two events for me, one a workshop for high school English students, the other a reading and fundraiser at a local library. The impetus for her involvement is a little convoluted, but ultimately she set these gigs up for me out of kindness. “We’re proud of you,” she wrote. Publisher pride is even better than Mom pride.

I could go on and on, the kindness that people have shown me over the last few months and years and life.

I’m taken aback by this kindness. What have I done to deserve it?

Must be something.

And that’s the secret side effect of kindness.

Everyone knows that being kind to others makes you feel good. A selfless act is never entirely selfless because you feel the warmth of connecting with a fellow human. Bringing joy into another person’s life is hugely satisfying.

But the secret side effect is that the recipient of the kindness feels worthy, feels decent, feels that their quest not to be an asshole is somehow succeeding, despite all the dark thoughts, misdeeds and deeds not done, all those sarcastic comments and passive-aggressive emails, not to mention the shameless self-promotion in the guise of a thoughtful blog post. If life is about balance, and I receive kindness, then I must deserve it.

To realize that you must have lived your life in such a way as to have earned kindness is gratifying and healthy. It turns out that how others see you can help you see yourself more generously.

canstockphoto15724173This past weekend, a neighbour down the street saw me up the ladder, painting, painting, always painting. She asked how tall the ladder was. I said I didn’t know. (I bet Clint would know.) She went on to tell me she was having trouble reaching a point over a stairway on the side of her own house, which she too was in the process of painting.

I don’t know this neighbour well, don’t even know her name, honestly, but I carried my ladder down the street, maneuvered it against her house and then offered to paint the patch for her. I thought of all those people who’d been kind to me, and I offered this small kindness.

I felt good about it. I bet she did too.

Congratulations Ross!

Rrossmurrayaholeinthegroundoss Murray is the author of two books: You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, a collection of his news columns over the years and just recently published A Hole in the Ground, a work of fiction, which is available for purchase right at this very moment. I was one of the proud sponsors during his Kickstarter campaign and I’m in the middle of reading it – worth every penny.

Here’s a Drinking Tips for Teens sampler:

Beach Poets Society

How to talk to humans

My bookstore fantasy