Get Out of Your Head

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my improvisation (improv) class as usual. I’d been having a lot of fun with the class and looked forward to it every week. This particular class started with a warm-up that had one person giving another person a character to act out. Each of these character acts lasted less than a minute and then the warm up game continued until another person was told to act out another character.

I did not know the first three characters assigned. Luckily, they were not assigned to me. I think they were all pop culture references but I’m not really sure.

Finally, someone referenced Margaret Thatcher and I thought, “I know her!” (I don’t really know Margaret Thatcher, nor will I, as she died in 2013, but I certainly knew of her.)

We moved on to another warm-up game and then the rest of the class, which involved creating and editing scenes.

I felt off the whole class. I was hesitant to jump into scenes and I was hesitant to edit scenes, things I normally do pretty well, in my humble opinion.

Later on, driving home, I thought about why I hadn’t had my usual fun with the class. It was only then that I recognized how “in my head” I’d been all class. Not knowing the character references at the beginning of class made me question myself. I became self-conscious and second-guessed myself for the rest of the class.

Being “in your head” doesn’t allow great improv to happen.

Being “in your head” doesn’t allow great writing—or even good writing—to happen, either.

Writing is such an intellectual pursuit, but it happens best, I believe, when we can let go of all our self-consciousness and let the words flow. There will be plenty of time to edit later, and no one will see what you’ve written until you show it to them.

So I wondered what was so different about that particular improv class? Why did I get so “in my head” when I haven’t been before?

Because I didn’t know the answer to the questions. Nobody asked me the questions, but it might have been better if they had. If I’d been told to act as a certain character, I’d have had to make something up (it is improv, after all,) and I’d have realized I didn’t need to know who these people were in order to create a character.

As it was, I watched other people create characters I didn’t know and I got anxious I’d be asked something I didn’t know. What would people think if I didn’t know what they knew? That anxiety continued throughout the class.

The same thing happens sometimes when I sit down to write.

If I’m worried about making a mistake or what “the experts” will think of what I write, I write less and I write less well. My writing is stilted and boring.

The following week I took another improv class and I’m happy to report I wasn’t “in my head” at all. I had a great time and I vaguely remember hearing some laughs from the audience (my classmates.) That’s what improv is all about.

Now I have another metaphor for good writing—improvise! Don’t get in my head, just sit down and see what comes. Don’t think too much and definitely don’t think about what others are thinking about me.

Do you have a useful metaphor for good writing?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, master life coach,  family physician, and student of improv.  To find out more about improv, check out ImprovBoston.

 

 

 

Writing effective emails

Let’s talk about writing emails. As writers, you will be writing and sending a lot of electronic communications during your careers. Everyone needs to write emails and there are several tips you can use to write those that effectively deliver your message. (Coincidentally many of these tips can be used in your other writing.)

email-envelope_originalA.T.T.P.Audience, Tone, Topic, Purpose – I’ve written about this before but in a nutshell always write to your specific audience, keep your tone consistent, keep to the topic and know why you are writing.

Subject line – There are those who throw away the power of the subject line. By thinking they are being clever, they’ll put a subject line like “Ha!” or “Read this!” or “Fw.Fw.Fw. best joke.”

Think about how you look at and use your emails – first you check who they are from and then you look to see what they are about. I’m pretty busy, emails with a subject line of “Ha!” usually get read last or even deleted. Subject lines that get my attention are those that do me a favor by telling me what’s in the email (they also help me to locate old emails.) “Query from W. Thomas” or “Suggestions for holiday party” are much more effective and give the reader value. Use the subject line as the tool it is.

Salutation – unless it’s a close friend (and even then reconsider) don’t ever start an email with “Yo!” Instead either put the name of the person to whom the email is addressed or simply start the text of the email. If it is a formal email, you may certainly use traditional letter convention and start with “Dear Mr. Smith.”

Body – most emails should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you have a problem – state what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and the solution. If you have a proposal – state what you are proposing, why and then conclude with the specifics of the proposal.  Organize your thoughts and get to the point.

Stay on topic – I know I mentioned topic above in the A.T.T.P. but it deserves a second mention. Please, please, please don’t fall into the “and another thing” trap. Keep your email to one topic and if you really need to talk about something else then either use headers to break it up or write a second email. People are busy, they can only do one thing at a time. Do your work to make reading your message easier for them.

Paragraphs – keep them short and have a return between each paragraph to create white space. It has been shown that people don’t read left to right when they are in front of a monitor, instead they scan vertically. It will help the reader (and you to get your message across) if you keep the paragraphs short.  Likewise, put separate ideas in separate paragraphs. Too much information in one paragraph runs the risk of that information getting lost.

Closing – You don’t really need to put a closing on an email, but if you do use a traditional “end of letter” closing, either type your name or use something like “Best wishes, Wendy.”

Use emails as a chance to practice your organization and writing skills and then carry this over to your other writing. Because in the end, the more effectively you write your message, the more likely it is to be heard.

 

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Read Up

READUPLast fall I interviewed Elizabeth George at the New England Crime Bake.  It was a wonderful conversation, with a lot of advice to ponder. One piece of advice I think about is to “read up”. My friend Michele Dorsey and I were talking about it at Malice Domestic. (Michele is the author of No Virgin Island, a wonderful mystery set on St. John.)

“I’ve taken her advice,” Michele told me. “I’m reading authors who inspire me to write better.”

As writers, we need a balanced diet. We need books that inspire us. We also need craft books and articles (and blogs) that help build strong bones and muscles. But we also need an occasional guilty pleasure–low in nutrients, but high in pleasure. Pleasure books are just that–read purely for pleasure.

When I read craft books, my brain is retaining, categorizing, filing for future use. When I am pleasure reading in my genre, I am watching another writer’s craft at work. The critic “Julie” is also reading aspirational novels, trying to absorb tips and tricks that I can use. But once in a while, I stop analyzing and start zoning in on the storytelling.

Some pleasure books break through to become aspirational. Some aspirational (well written) books are torture to get through. The balance between the two is the sweet spot.

I hope that each book I write is better than the next. Sounds simple, but it is tough to do.

Friends, what are your “I wish I wrote that” books? Which writers do you aspire to write like?

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Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. She also blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors.

 

You Want to Make a Living as a Writer? Are You Crazy?

If you have a passion for writing and have non-creatives in your life, you have probably heard some form of this mantra for years:

No one can make a living writing; find something practical to pursue. 

What’s ‘practical’? What makes sense if your passion is for words? Fitting the square peg into a round hole never works, does it?

The comfort of working for yourself

The comfort of working for yourself

It helps to be a little crazy when pursuing something many people can’t relate to. But if you want to make a living as a writer, there are a few skills that can help you succeed.

  • Passion for words – I believe you need to have a yearning to learn about words, to want to play with words, to strive to get sentences just write, to want to share part of yourself through written expression. You want to make an impression on your audience in some manner.
  • Confidence – Believe in yourself and in your passion to write. Take pride in every piece of writing you create; in every story your muse delivers to you. Every new piece of writing is more experience that helps you grow, expand, and refine your skill.
  • Discipline – this is such a big deal! You absolutely have to be able to set a schedule and stick to it! Writing only when you’re in the mood will not help you make a living as a writer at all. Take writing seriously – get your butt in a chair and your hands over the keyboard – and write! Daily!
  • Training/Education – Take some writing classes (online or in person), practice writing and submitting to contests that offer feedback, join a critique group. Practice different types of writing to discover what you enjoy most – also learn about what pays well — you want to make a living as a writer! (this helps build your confidence and discipline too)
  • Marketing – as a solopreneur writer, you have to not only create, but you have to advertise – let people know you have the talent, time, and ability to deliver on their writing needs. Marketing takes time, isn’t easy, but is absolutely required in order to make a living as a writer. If people and businesses don’t know you exist, the money will not come.

To make a living as a writer, you must have business skills. There isn’t any way around it — other than hiring someone to manage the business side of the writing life — but even then, you want to have an understanding of all that is involved.

The writing life isn’t something to jump into – take the time to honestly assess your skills, passion, and interest in words.

If it’s truly what you want – go for it! Being a little scared and unsure is natural – it means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and there’s never anything wrong with that. Ever. (in my humble opinion)

Do you have what it takes to make a living as a writer?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links May 8

A Shout Out to all the Writing Mamas

instagram tree cloudsMother’s Day dawned here under mostly gray skies that hung low and brooding with the threat of afternoon rain. As I write this, the first drops have begun to fall, turning the road dark and sending the birds at my feeder into a bit of a frenzy. Though I feel sorry for anyone who had outdoor or travel plans, I’m enjoying the cozy feeling that comes from being indoors with a steaming mug of tea to hand while the rain falls outside the window.

On this day celebrating motherhood, I’d like to send some extra love to all the writing mamas out there. Whether you are a relatively new mom in the throes of navigating toddlerhood or an empty nester who is discovering that a mother’s job is truly never done, it’s a challenge to carve out writing time in days that are full to overflowing with the responsibilities (and joys!) of parenting.

In order to make time to write, mothers must become masters of time management and manipulation, stealing writing time wherever they can find it. Even harder than finding time to write is finding energy. When my daughter was younger, there were many days when I barely had enough brain cells left to piece together a simple email, never mind work on an essay or a story. And yet,  inspired by other moms, I kept at it.

Ultimately, I know that being someone’s mom has made me a better writer. Tactically, the challenges of writing while being a mom have helped me develop almost superhuman levels of patience, focus, and efficiency. People often marvel, for instance, at my ability to get actual writing done while sitting in a noisy coffee shop. Mom Writer Training, I tell them. I’ve also had clients comment on my ability to juggle so many projects and deadlines with apparent ease. Moms don’t have time to mess around, I tell them. We just need to get the job done.

Intellectually and emotionally, motherhood grants me access to insights and feelings that I would never otherwise have known or experienced. It broadens my perspective, deepens my empathy, and improves my sense of humor. Being a mom keeps me grounded, while at the same time enhancing my powers of imagination and creativity.

I am grateful that my life includes both writing and motherhood. While the combination creates challenges, it makes each day an adventure with new chances for discovery.

Happy Mother’s Day!

_jamie sig

 

 


 

While I’m only midway through the book I’m currently reading (hoping to share next weekend!), I do have some Internet reads to share.

My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

Sundry Links and Articles:

A Little Piece of Fantasy History

As a long-time fan of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, my little geek heart skipped a beat when I came across this little tidbit:

Last year, a map of Middle-earth, annotated by Tolkien himself, was unearthed in a copy of a book owned by illustrator Pauline Baynes. The map’s now been purchased by Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, who very kindly put a full, authorized, version of the full map online, which is sure to be pored over by fans forever and ever.

tolkien map

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Book-to-Course Summit

I came across this free, online event via Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. Though I cannot vouch for all the presenters included on the docket, I have always found Friedman’s content to be of the highest caliber.

book course event

The 8-day, virtual event takes place May 11th – May 18th and is free to participants thanks to sponsorship from Teachable, an online course development and management platform. If you’ve ever thought about creating an online course, you may want to check this event out for some inspiration and tips. Since it’s free, you’ll likely have to sit through some sales pitches, but you may learn something worth knowing.

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin so much so beautiful

Here’s to the adventures of writing and of motherhood and to the way they collide to create new perspectives and dreams and realities. Write on, mamas!
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – Of Writing and Riding, Stories and Horses

cricket_sm

Me (in the front) and my sister (hanging on in back) on Cricket. I’m a happy girl. Sis – not so much.

I don’t have a conscious memory of my first time on a pony, but I do have a photo. In the blue-tinted picture, I am three-and-a-half years old and sitting astride a shaggy, black steed named Cricket. I’m sporting a red bandana, and the look on my face says it all – this is love. My younger sister is perched behind me wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt and a much less enthusiastic expression.

joe_sm

Me and “Little Joe.” He was my pony for a whole summer. What a lucky girl. (And, check my cool bell bottoms, Dorothy Hamill haircut, and flashy red socks!)

As I grew older, my love of horses grew with me. By the time I was twelve, I was taking riding lessons. I even got to have a pony live at my house for the summer. “Little Joe,” as he was called, was anything but. Fat and full of attitude, his favorite pastimes included pinning me against the side of the barn, doing a military crawl under the paddock fence (in order to get to the “greener grass” on the other side), and orchestrating midnight escapes that resulted in my whole family running up and down our long driveway in our pajamas, trying desperately to coax the naughty pony back to his stall with carrots and buckets of grain.

When I was in my early thirties, I took up riding again. As an adult, I developed a whole new appreciation for the equestrian arts. My younger self had been caught up in the romance and adventure of riding a horse – but my older self became fascinated with the nuances of communication and cooperation that are the true foundation of good riding.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I mounted up again after nearly twelve years out of the saddle. I had started my daughter on lessons, and being around the barn proved too much of a temptation for me.  Though I was a little nervous about my first lesson in a long time, the rangy thoroughbred I was paired with (Traveler, who has since moved on to the big pasture in the sky) turned out to be very accommodating. More importantly, once I’d settled into the saddle,  all my years of riding came right back to me.

Horsemanship is called an “art” for a reason. Though it requires a great deal of athleticism – strength, balance, agility, and flexibility – it’s more about developing an intuitive “feel” and building a relationship with your horse. The most advanced riders make the act appear effortless, but there is actually a subtle and unceasing dialog that takes place between horse and rider. It’s about pushing past fear so you can experience moments of flow when it feels like you and the horse are one. In this way, riding has a lot in common with writing.

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Seeing Past the Romance and Embracing the Hard Work

Falling in love with horses is easy, especially when you’re a pre-teen girl who already loves animals. The idea of riding is full of romance. In our daydreams, riding is easy. You imagine flying bareback along a stretch of pristine, sun-kissed shoreline – the wind in your hair and the sound of hoofbeats pounding in the sand. The idyllic experience is full of harmony and ease and a kind of magic. Or, maybe, like I used to do when I was a kid, you imagine that you have a one-of-a-kind connection to horses that gives you special abilities when it comes to taming the wilder ones. Oh, how many times I wished I could be like Alec from The Black Stallion.

Writers often fall under a similar spell. We swoon over the idea of writing and all the trappings of the writing life – vintage typewriters, cool software, beautiful notebooks, well-stocked libraries, and cozy writing nooks. We are enamored with the image of The Writer as artiste. Instead of daydreaming about galloping along the beach, we picture ourselves scribbling in a Moleskine notebook as we stroll along the Seine, keyboarding our third bestseller from the corner seat in a chic coffee shop, or accepting accolades (and hefty commission checks) for our breakout novel.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the romance of either riding or writing. I’m all grown up, and I still daydream about communing with wild horses and sequestering myself in a room of my own to write to my heart’s content. Romance and daydreams are healthy and helpful. They keep us always falling in love and inspire us to keep going even when the going gets tough.

But, whether you’re getting a leg up into the saddle or into a story, you have to realize that romance will only take you so far. Just thinking about riding will not make you a good rider. Likewise, just thinking about writing will not make you a good writer. At some point, you have to step beyond your romantic notions and get your hands dirty. Your budding romance must blossom into true love if it’s going to survive the long, hard road ahead.

Because, make no mistake, both riding and writing demand a lot of hard work. There are no shortcuts to mastery in either pursuit, and there’s a lot less glitz and glamour than you might assume. When I come home from a lesson at the barn, I’m covered in dirt, sweat, and horsehair. I smell like manure, have dust from the riding ring up my nose and in my eyes, and I’m tired and sore from head to toe. But, it’s a good tired. I may be exhausted, but I’m also exhilarated. I feel grounded and accomplished.

I feel much the same after a good writing session (sans the dirt and horsehair). Instead of  working up a sweat wrangling a 1500-lb horse around the ring, I tax my braincells wrestling words onto the page in a messy and imperfect process that is anything but romantic. In both cases, I have to love the hard work of actually doing the thing as much as I love the idea of doing it.

Committing to Consistent Practice

On a related note, both riding and writing require consistent practice. My daughter rides as well, and we are both the kind of students who show up no matter what. Rain, snow, excessive heat, bone-chilling cold – we’re there. Only the most extreme weather or illness keeps us from our lessons.

Whether you’re trying to master horsemanship or storytelling, you will learn faster the more you practice. While I’m not 100% sold on Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, I do believe that the more you do anything, the better you’ll get at it. It’s just common sense. You get more comfortable, gain more experience, and learn from past mistakes. You also start to dull the edge of any fears you might have.

Getting Over Your Fear

As a child, I was a mostly fearless rider and, come to think of it, writer. I had few preconceived ideas about how things were “supposed” to be, and I didn’t fully grasp the consequences that might befall me if I did something wrong. I also, I think, benefitted from a youthful ability to deny that anything bad would ever happen to me.

Lots of things can go wrong when you’re in the saddle. Horses can spook or shy at pretty much anything including unexpected sights, sounds, and even scents. When frightened, they might jump sideways, rear up on their hind legs, or bolt and take off at a gallop. Apart from reacting to their own fear, sometimes horses just don’t feel like cooperating. You might, for instance, be on your approach to jump a fence and suddenly your mount decides they don’t feel like jumping and slams on the brakes. If you’re not prepared for such an eventuality, you risk being thrown right over your horse’s neck. Other times, you might just lose your balance and, through no fault of your mount’s, tumble to the ground.

Clearly, there’s a lot to fear.

With writing, the fear is less about bodily harm and more about vulnerability. As writers, we fear being ridiculed, called out as frauds, or exposed by what we share. We are afraid that we’re doing it wrong, that no one will care, and that everyone will see us fail. We worry that we’re not getting better, were never any good, and will never be published. These fears don’t involve bumps, bruises, or broken bones, but they are at least as scary.

With both horses and words, the best way (the only way!) to push past your fear is just to get up in the saddle and do the thing  you’re afraid of. Gallop that horse, jump that fence, publish that blog post, submit that story. You will never talk yourself out of your fears. You have to work your way past them by facing them again and again until you eventually realize that not only are your worst fears rarely realized, even when they are it’s never as bad as you imagined it would be.

I’ve fallen off many different horses over the years. I’ve fallen off while jumping and while walking around the ring after a lesson. I’ve been stepped on and bitten, crushed against fences, and nearly kicked. And you know what? I survived. In my writing life, I’ve been critiqued cruelly, told I’m not a “Real Writer,” and fired. And you know what? I survived.

Whether you’re riding or writing, making mistakes is part of the process. It’s like the old cliché says – When you fall off your horse, you’ve got to dust yourself off and get right back in the saddle. Same thing with writing. Never let an unkind word or a rejection keep you from picking up your pen or hitting the keyboard. Just get back in there and keep wrangling those words.

Learning the Language

In riding, you use your “aids” – hand, seat, weight, and voice – to communicate with your horse. These are the foundational elements of the language of horsemanship. A good ride depends on your ability to use your aids effectively both individually, and in hundreds of complex and subtle combinations. This is how you “talk” to your horse and give instructions about speed, direction, bend, flexion, and position.

In a way, riding really is like learning to speak a new language. I never cease to be amazed at the complexity and depth of the “conversation” that I can have with a horse simply by shifting my weight, changing my leg position, or altering my grip on the reins. With enough practice, the transitions become more fluid and the communication becomes more efficient and effective. It also becomes more beautiful to experience and to watch. Ultimately, neither horse nor rider is “in charge.” We are partners, collaborating and cooperating. We support each other – the horse supports me with its strength and back, I support the horse with my guidance, leg, and hand. We complement each other, each relying on the other’s strengths to attain our shared goal.

You cannot expect to ride well if you don’t spend time learning how to use the aids that allow you to converse with your mount. These are the basics. They seem so simple as to be almost negligible, but they are the core of everything else you do when on horseback. The most advanced riders in the world use the same exact set of tools as the beginner. The difference is in how they are applied.

It is the same with writing. We all have the same words to work with. We all learn the same foundational tenet of grammar and usage. We all have access to the same set of basic instructions on story structure, characterization, plot, tension, conflict, etc. The tools are the same for each and every writer, the difference between a first-time author and a literary master is only in the skill and experience with which those tools are applied.

Take the time to learn the language. Understand that even the most complex story can still be broken down into those basic, foundational parts. It’s like watching a flawless dressage performance in which horse and rider appear to float through their movements, and understanding that even that level of perfection is created using the same basic tools as any other horse and rider. It’s both humbling and inspiring.

Finding Your Balance

Balance is critical in riding. You must find a point of equilibrium from which you can not only maintain your own position, but can also influence your horse’s. You need to be firmly seated so that you can use all your aids to communicate effectively. If you are out of balance and  send conflicting messages, your horse will become confused and even frustrated. For instance, if you’re using your leg to urge the horse forward, but your lack of balance causes you to simultaneously pull back on the reins, your poor horse literally won’t know whether he’s coming or going. The result: you’ll get nowhere, fast.

Balance is also an important component of writing and of the writing life. In the craft, you must learn to find your balance in your story so that you can tell it well. You must learn to balance forward momentum with tension and balance one character against another. You must also learn to balance your writing with the rest of your life – family, partner, parents, work, friends, other interests and obligations. You must learn to balance your schedule so that you have time and space for everything, and you must learn to balance and ground yourself in your writing practice despite the many distractions that will come into your day.

Balance is, as they say, a verb more than it is a noun. In both riding and writing, balance is something you do, not something you acquire. Whether you are talking about being in the saddle or nurturing your writer’s life, things are always shifting. You need to be able to shift with them in order to keep your seat under you.

Listening to Your “Muse”

Riding is, though it may not look it, a very active pursuit. The rider is never on auto-pilot and neither is the horse. They are always communicating. They are always listening to one another. A good horse and rider team can “read” each other without even trying. They are always observing each other and responding to each other. The balance is always shifting, back and forth.

Despite the precision with which horse and rider can communicate via the aids, there will always be a certain mystery that exists in the relationship. Anyone who has ridden for a long time will tell you that there is something more at play in a good ride than the physical aids. Over time, horse and rider establish another line of communication, something less tangible but just as powerful. It’s almost as if, on some level, they become one, the boundaries between their intention and their movements dissolving. All the hard work that the team has put in transforms into what appears to be an effortless dance.

So it can be with writing, when you find yourself in a state of creative flow that takes you out of your head, so to speak, and in which you almost “become” the story you are writing. In these moments, when the words come easily and almost unbidden, you are reaping the reward of all your long hours of practice and perseverance. This may feel like magic, but it’s really just you tapping into your own creative genius via all the work you’ve put into pushing past your fears, learning the language, practicing, and finding your balance.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Friday Fun – A Few Words about Mom

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. We normally pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re dropping the question and going free form with short stories about each of our mothers. We hope you’ll join in and provide your own anecdote.

Tell us about your mom!

Mom_SusieSusan Nye: As Mother’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about the many gifts my mom has given me. Not the baby dolls or bicycles, the Fair Isle sweater or the bright red stew pot I still use today. Mom didn’t pass on her very long legs but she gave me her enthusiasm for spirited conversation.

Dinner at our house served two purposes. It kept the family from starving and, more important, it brought us together. My mother was not particularly interested in cooking but she was very keen on family dinner. Most evenings we hung out for a good hour, sometimes longer. The television was never on. The telephone was ignored.

Every night we shared our news, victories, trials and tribulations. We discussed everything and anything – our day at school, our favorite books, celebrities and stars as well as the Boston Bruins and Red Sox. As we got older, political and social issues were frequently discussed.

It was an exciting, turbulent time, a time of great change; kind of like now. We vigorously discussed the virtues and vices of the President and a whole host of politicians, public figures, crusaders and crooks. We deliberated over the war, civil rights, women’s rights and the environment. We shouted, we laughed, we jockeyed for position. We talked all at once and interrupted each other in our excitement and enthusiasm. Somehow or other we managed to listen to each other (if only barely) and respect each other (if sometimes grudgingly).

Those dinners were tremendous confidence builders. Even when she disagreed, Mom never discouraged my youthful dance with new ideas. Within our protective family circle, I tested new insights and changing opinions. I learned to listen and scrutinize an idea before accepting or rejecting it. Those dinners helped me develop the self-confidence to speak up, share my ideas and stories and listen to others. I am forever grateful.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Reading Susan’s post reminds me of my family’s supper table. Those meals and those conversations were the best.

One of the many things my mom gave me was her love of reading. By the time I was 11 I read whatever she was reading. Her favorite book is Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham. I started reading it in high school and I complained to her about how dreary it was and how unlikeable the characters. “Keep reading,” she said, and I did. By the end of that story I was totally in love with it and I still am. It’s one of those books I still think about, which is my idea of great art.

My mom also instilled in me the idea that I had a voice–that what I had to say was worth hearing. Around that chaotic dinner table (there are only 3 1/2 years between my oldest and youngest sibling–and there are 5 of us!) the 7 of us laughed and talked and were told, in unspoken ways, that we mattered.  Thanks, Mom!

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Two years ago, in a post titled Thanks, Mom, I wrote about how my mom inspired my love of reading and writing, how she is my go-to editor for Really Important Pieces of Writing, and how she is consistently and fiercely supportive of my writing dreams. All these accolades remain just as true (if not more so) today.

Mom & Me

Mom & Me

When I tried to think of a “short story” to share about my mom, I was troubled to find that no specific anecdote sprang to mind. While I have plenty of “remember when” stories about other family members, I found myself floundering to come up with a specific tale about Mom.

And then I realized that the reason I was challenged to find a single moment to share is because my mom is such a steadfast presence in my life. We talk on the phone almost every day. I tell her everything, and she’s always there for me. She is patient and intuitive, empathetic, and insightful. She is a proverbial “rock” – a grounding, centering force in my world.

The “story” of my mom is made up of a million humble acts of compassion and kindness. It is told in countless moments of encouragement, and hours and hours of listening to me tell my stories (did I mention that the woman is patient?). While I realize that my mom is her own person with a secret inner life and a story that’s solely hers, I am grateful each and every day for the moments she shares with me.

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Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I grew up in the house my mother grew up in, and her mother grew up in, and her mother grew up, and you get the picture. The family homestead. My folks still live in the house and it contains a lot of family history. There are so many photos throughout the living room, dining room, and den — even a pencil drawing my uncle drew of the house when he and my mother were kids.

All my stories about my mom involve the house and how she, to this day, keeps it filled with smiles and love and family stories.