What I Am Not by Jeanette McGurk

I am NOT completely grown up.
By now, I thought I would be, less than a month from 50.
Is my room clean? My bed made, even after eating cookies and getting crumbs in it?
The dog, a better grown up, often takes care of the crumbs.

I am NOT without fault.
Oh, I would like to think “if all the people I voted for got elected”….but wait?
Did I vote Saturday in that local election?
Did I put cardboard in the regular trash?
Did I drive past the woman walking on the street in her bathrobe and walker?
I am not without fault.

I am NOT happy about weird skin bumps and spots and tags.
This, this part of aging I am not a fan of.
I was prepared for wrinkles. I can mostly deal with wild curly white hairs.
The ones my daughters love to pull and watch spring in different directions.
I am even okay with sagging….everywhere
But witchy bumpy skin, really gets on my nerves.

I am NOT a fly on the wall.
I am a Mom in a minivan.
I drive 5 kids home from school every day.
Today, they discussed what to call their clubhouse in the woods.
It is proudly made of sticks and grass and other found treasures.
Worthy of its name: The Society of the Pugalope.
(But it is a secret, so don’t tell anyone).

I am NOT a good driver.
Just ask my garage or my husband.

I am NOT a poet.
Sunday I sat in a room full of poets.
I need to throw out a line long enough to catch a whale
in my storytelling.
These folks, take a handful of words and
craft them into 90 seconds of bliss.

I am not a poet but I AM a lover of
miniature journeys.
Their intimacy.
Is there any map so clear to the heart?

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

Sunday Sanctuary: on Cultivating Friendships, Social Media, and Death

Though I had a home computer and dot matrix printer when I was in college, the first computer to have a modem and thus an internet connection was a Windows98 computer that came with a free month of AOL. I still remember the exciting dial tone, beeps, and then SCREECH of that 56.K Modem connecting to the world beyond my walls. And, of course, the exciting announcements from AOL of “Welcome” and if you were lucky, “You’ve Got Mail”.

The thing about the “you’ve got mail” part was that until you found others to connect to, that mail box was pretty empty. Can you remember the days when getting an email was fresh, new, and rare?

After quickly boring of chat rooms and IMs from complete strangers, I wondered about what I could find online. You probably aren’t surprised that one of the first things I searched for was “Trixie Belden books”, wondering if I could find replacements for the ones my mother sold in a garage sale.

Then I discovered Zap’s Trixie Belden Message Board. It wasn’t long before I began to do something I hadn’t imagined possible with the internet: cultivate real friendships.

Back in the olden days of the internet, it took effort to get to know someone. You had to comment on message board threads, send direct messages, and exchange email addresses. There were no Facebook posts to like or Instagram selfies to see who you were connecting with.

It began with words. Because, back in those days, getting a photo online wasn’t an easy task. You had to send emails. Exchange phone numbers. Send real mail. And comment on each other’s writings. (Yes, I confess to both writing and reading an inordinate amount of Trixie Belden Fan Fic way back when.)

All of this comes up for me right now because one of my first good internet friends passed away on May 25th.

We met on that Trixie Belden Message Board in 1998. We began emailing and eventually exchanged phone numbers, talking at least once a week. Although she lived in Pennsylvania and I lived in Texas, eventually we put together a sleepover at my house. We invited several other Trixie friends to join us, the first of three or four ladies’ weekends.

When I began blogging, I encouraged all my internet friends to blog, too. We exchanged emails and phone calls and learned about each other’s lives in that way, but those early blogs allowed us to connect in a deeper way.

We became creative kindreds.

Though I moved on from Fan Fic and began writing for All Things Girl in 2002, she and I still stayed connected. We continued talking on the phone, exchanging emails, reading each other’s blogs, and never missed a birthday or Christmas. I still use the Pampered Chef garlic press she gave me one year.

When I took my oldest daughter to the ER because of her suicidal thoughts, she stayed on the phone with me on the drive there. She was a high school guidance counselor and understood the ways of the teen mind.

When I divorced, she came for a visit and took me shopping. She wanted me to have a “happy divorce” gift, and the pair of lamps we chose were a reminder of her love and light.

We knew each other before she married. Shared intimate details about our lives, including our sex lives. We talked about our dreams and desires for the future. We explored our views of God and creation and faith and hope.

Over the years, my focus became ensuring that the bills got paid, a task harder to do after divorcing. I stopped blogging as much and drifted away from most of my friends. Compartmentalization was the way I survived, and I missed the connections. Yet, I didn’t have the bandwidth nor did I wish to burden her (or others) during those years I traveled 200+ days a year.

The thing was, though, I had a secret anonymous blog. She found it, figured out it was me, and loyally kept my secrets.  After moving to Ohio, and settling down into a semblance of ordinary life, I sent her a long letter, apologizing for drifting away, and making confessions.

She accepted my apologies and told me she knew about my secrets and didn’t judge me for them. We began letters and cards and the occasional calls. But, less frequently.

It seems as if I am on the phone less often these days outside of talking with clients.

All the things we do in real life to deepen a friendship seemed actually easier in the days before social media. We had to make an effort. We had to write more than 140 characters. We had to send individual emails, not blasts. We had to pick up the phone and talk rather than sending a text.

Yes, all those things now seem like so much effort, but cultivating real friendships take effort. Yes, social media is easier. But let’s be honest: it’s less personal. And now thanks to the advent of anything we post being kinda “forever”, we are far less likely to share what’s really going on in our lives.

Real vulnerability, something that’s needed for folks to connect, doesn’t happen when you’re sharing with the world. That requires intimacy. Social media is not intimate. Though I try to be authentic, I know that vulnerability is something that only trusted people get to witness.

I found out about her death on Facebook.

I had vaguely known she was back in the hospital due to her battle with a rare liver disease. The last posts I had seen made by her, she seemed hopeful and upbeat about being on the transplant list. I am ashamed that I have begun relying upon social media to know what’s happening in so many of my friend’s lives.

Is social media, the way to connect with hundreds of friends, actually making us less social and more shallow?

And the thought that plagues me this many weeks later is: what if I hadn’t see the post her mother made on her daughter’s Facebook page announcing her death?

I used to write in my blog daily. I sent multiple personal emails a day. I never missed getting a birthday card in the mail to a friend. It feels as if all the ways social media makes it oh, so easy to connect actually is eroding the ways to truly connect. And, I have to be honest: all the ways I create seem harder now that social media is there to distract me.

I write thousands and thousands of words less per month than I used to write. That’s because all that clicking and checking on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my favorite news sites are addictive. And an easy way to numb. And an easy to distract myself when writing feels tough.

I have been making a hard effort to be on all those social media platforms less.

But what if I hadn’t seen that one post? What if in my need to curb my addiction to clicking and scrolling, I didn’t know she had died?

How do we cultivate friendships now in the age of social media? I mean, real friendships. The people you can call when you have a challenge with your teenager? The friend you can tell you’re having marital issues and know they’ll be a voice of wisdom (and keep it private)? The folks that you can spend hours on the phone with, laughing over the craziness of life and getting older?

Deep in my heart of hearts, I know that cultivating real friendships thanks to the world wide web is possible. Yet, how do we go beyond the surface? How to we stay attentive to what needs to be tended, like our business pages on Facebook, while carving out the time for deeper connections?

How can we keep building these true, deeper connections? Connections, which frankly, we all desperately are needing?

Are we destined to learn about births and deaths – marriages and divorces – on social media?

All I know is that this death of one of my first creative kindreds has sobered me. And inspired me to connect in ways outside of social media. After writing a sympathy card to her husband and mailing a check in her memory to her school, I sent another half-dozen cards and notes out to friends. A thank you note here, a birthday card there, and a few hey-I-was-thinking-of-you letters.

I need my creative kindreds far and wide. And I am grateful to first meet them thanks to a blog they write or a photo of their favorite cup on Instagram. I also know I need more.

And some way, I need to cultivate the time and space to make that happen.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Instrumental: Cultivating Mindfulness (Part Two) by Diana Raab

(Read Part One of Cultivating Mindfulness Here)

Mindfulness meditation, which originated in Buddhist circles, encourages you to focus on feelings, experiences, and internal and external processes in a nonjudgmental manner. It is about being fully present in the moment, thus making you more aware of yourself, others, and your environment. Mindfulness meditation is about paying attention to the thoughts racing through your mind, without obsessing about them or trying to fix them in any particular way. Meditation is one of the best ways to increase self-awareness, calm your mind and your body, and connect with what is happening in the present moment.

Many studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Some institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, have already integrated mindfulness meditation into many of their programs to foster healing in those dealing with mental and physical illnesses. When mindfulness meditation is used to help addicts in recovery, studies have shown that it minimizes the stress caused by the trigger to use alcohol or drugs. The results can be very effective when used in conjunction with other modalities, such as psychotherapy.

Mindfulness meditation forces you to sit with yourself and to accept and tolerate your feelings rather than medicating them. Sitting with your problems and recognizing them with curiosity and acceptance helps you better to diffuse any triggers that you may regularly encounter. One of the many wonderful aspects of mindfulness meditation is that you can do it alone and anywhere. You don’t need props, mentors, or facilitators. It only takes a few minutes, and the results are effective, long acting, and empowering.

Meditation may be practiced either while sitting still or, for those who have difficulty sitting, while walking. Other practices such as Qigong and Tai Chi are also good options. In mindfulness meditation, the idea is to sit still and focus on the breath—breathing in and pausing, breathing out and pausing. Full awareness is kept during the breathing process, even when there are outside noises—such as cars honking, dogs barking, trains passing, or people engaged in conversation. You will notice that, even while focusing on your breath, your thoughts might interrupt you, but your attention should quickly return to the breath.

Before beginning your meditation practice, it is important to sit still on a chair or cushion with your back straight. I like the metaphor one meditation teacher taught me of imagining your head being a helium balloon floating through the roof into the atmosphere. Then, as a grounding force, think of your spine sinking into the floor. This prepares you to anchor yourself in your meditation experience (for how to ground yourself, see step 2).

When I was recovering from breast cancer surgery, my meditation instructor taught me to imagine a ball of white light above my head permeating into the crown of my head and moving down through my body. The idea was to purify any negative energy or thoughts. I had to remind my body to relax. I dropped my shoulders, the part of my body where I hold a lot of my tension. Then, I focused on my breath and said, “Breathe in, breathe out.” I repeated this until I felt a deep sense of peace. Sometimes I even drifted off, but paying attention to the breath is important as a mindset.

For those who have struggled with addiction, mindfulness meditation is an important part of recovery. Noah Levine in his book, Dharma Punx, says that prayer and meditation became an integral part of his life and that it helped him find a sense of purpose in his life. “Being an addictive type, when I find something that makes me feel good I want to do it all the time, so I did, I turned my life toward recovery and spiritual practice.”

One way to achieve bliss through writing is before writing to engage in what Levine calls, “Appreciative Joy Meditation,” where after settling the body, you focus on breathing into the heart center. With each breath concentrate on appreciating all the joyfulness and happiness you’ve experienced in your life. This might be a good time to wear a slight smile on your face. Now offer some intentions to encourage your deep gratefulness.

The intentions you set can be ones you create for yourself or you may use the suggested ones provided by Levine, such as:

May I learn to appreciate the happiness and joy I experience.
May the joy I experience continue and grow.
May I be filled with gratitude.

Writing Prompt

After doing” Appreciative Joy Meditation,” consider writing a few pages on what you are thankful for, presently and in the past. What you are thankful for can pertain to certain individuals who have been in your life, belongings, experiences, feeling, and/or ways of being.

Hanh, a Buddhist Monk and also a mindfulness advocate, wisely says that the breath is the bridge connecting our life to consciousness. It also unites our bodies to our thoughts. When your mind becomes scattered, focus on your breath to get hold of your mind once again. In Hanh’s tradition, zazen, or seated meditation, is a part of everyday life. In Western living, meditating for fifteen or twenty minutes might be all that is needed to calm you, but of course you may do so for as long as you like.

I also like Bernie Siegel’s definition of meditation as a way to focus the mind into a state of relaxed awareness. Relaxation is the key here because, even though the mind tends to be less responsive to distraction during meditation, it can be more focused on certain images or feelings. These images are usually important to us, whether they are connected to healing or peace.

Writing Prompt

After your meditation, write in your journal about your experience. Did you notice any mood shifts or subjects that kept popping into your mind?

What thoughts kept interrupting your attention to your breathing? How did those interruptions make you feel?

Meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand and it’s good to practice both. Here’s a simple meditation exercise to practice at any time:

Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Sit as if you are a puppet and there is a string attached to the top of your head. Gently let your eyes close. Allow your body to become relaxed and quiet. Take a deep breath through your nose and let it out through your mouth. Repeat this a few times. Allow your mind to become peaceful and quiet. Let go of the emotional and mental chatter. Expand your awareness. Feel the silence within. Keep your eyes closed for about fifteen minutes; then pick up your pen to write about your experience.

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winner writer, speaker, and educator. She’s an advocate of writing for healing and facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self.

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Global Thrive, and PsychAlive. She lives in Southern California. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Instrumental: Cultivating Mindfulness (Part One) by Diana Raab

Mindfulness is an important practice for the creative individual, and mindfulness may be defined as being in the here and now. This practice is essential for the best writing, because it taps into the messages of your heart and soul. Being mindful entails awareness and interconnectedness between your inner and outer worlds. If we are more awake and alert, we can more easily receive the messages from within us and from the universe.

In her book, The True Secret of Writing, Natalie Goldberg (2013) reminds us of the importance of mindfulness as we move about our day, whether we are writing, doing errands, or engaging in interpersonal relationships. Some of the characteristics of mindfulness also include being nonjudgmental, being patient, being accepting, trusting, maintaining the beginner’s mind, and letting go.

When considering mindfulness practice or how to quiet your mind, try to sit for a minute and think about what calms you and contemplate how you can incorporate those things into your daily life. Even just a few minutes of walking meditation or mindful breathing can bring you into the present moment. In addition to incorporating mindfulness into your day, such as when standing in line at a store, it is good to practice it before sitting down to write.

My day always begins with a meditation, sometimes even before my coffee. Sometimes I do a shorter meditation later in the afternoon to give me a boost of energy.

Goldberg, in her Zen writing retreats reminds her students to anchor their mind to their breath by using paper and pen to write. This helps you stay in the moment, as does the mantra, “Sit. Walk. Write.”—which she calls the “true secret.”

Even though the mind is a wonderful thing, it can sometimes get in the way of creativity, mainly because the voices in our heads can get in the way of what our heart wants to say. In fact, sometimes the voice in our head turns to the dark part of ourselves. This voice can point to feelings of fear, guilt, anger, sadness, envy, and resentment, instead of a sense of lightness of being. It might seem like a nagging parent or spouse.

The ego has the ability to create false thoughts, which is the inner chatter we hear most often. In fact, it is the voice in our heads that we sometimes try to tell to “shut up.” Otherwise, we can become overwhelmed by these thoughts and lose touch with reality.

This is one reason why during meditation it is a good idea to let thoughts come and go, rather than becoming obsessed by them or focusing on any one in particular. If you focus too intensely on your thoughts, the chance is greater for you to lose touch with the here and now. On a trip to Maui for a writer’s retreat a few years back, I met with Ram Dass, who continues to relay his very important message of “be here now,” dating way back to the 1960s and 1970s.

Those who live in the present moment, often come across as being more grounded. As Ram Dass says, “When you meet a being who is centered you always know it. You always feel a kind of calm, emanation. It always touches you in that place where you feel calm,” he says. The more we bring our focus into the present moment, the more we experience the bliss and joy of that moment and what our true essence is.

I want to leave you with a couple of writing prompts to help you cultivate mindfulness for your creative life.

Writing Prompt

 Practice focusing on the here and now. Take a few slow, deep breaths and focus on your belly. What are you seeing, sensing, hearing, or intuiting at this moment? Ask inside your body what you are feeling. Do you feel discomfort anywhere? Does an image pop into your mind? This is body intelligence.

Writing Prompt

Describe the person your mind thinks you are. What do you look like? What do you believe? What is your connection with the universe or loved ones? Have someone else write about you. Is how they perceive you the same as how you perceive yourself ?

Check in tomorrow for Part Two, focusing on Mindful Meditation. There will be writing prompts for that, too!

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winner writer, speaker, and educator. She’s an advocate of writing for healing and facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self.

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Global Thrive, and PsychAlive. She lives in Southern California. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Quick Connections by John Grey

sit quietly with me,
leave your chatter
to the cell phone,
let it talk with other cell-phones
long into the night
while we sit here
and watch the stars.

They’re suns,
they glitter,
not twitter,
balls of fire,
of light,
the two things missing
in our close-connected world.

let it just be me, you
and the heavens,
modest but clear
communication channels
on an age-old frequency.

About the Author: John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.

Sunday Brunch: At the Movies

As I write this, it’s 8:30 on Saturday evening, and the temperature outside is still over ninety degrees (that’s a bit over thirty-three to people outside the USA). Even in the Dallas suburbs, where I live, this is unusually hot for the beginning of June. It’s the kind of heat that makes me too lazy to write, the kind of heat where I end up spending more hours in the pool than out of it, the kind of heat where my favorite non-aquatic activity is escaping to the movies.


The great thing about summer – not meteorological summer, but fiscal summer – the weeks from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is that in addition to being conducive to curling up in my air-conditioned living room and getting lost in a book, or spending entire days devoted to perfecting my butterfly stroke, it’s also the season of summer blockbusters at the local movie theaters.

Escaping to the movies, whether to beat the heat by spending a few hours in someone else’s air conditioning or just to break out of the doldrums that even the most creative of us find ourselves in from time to time, has been something I’ve done since childhood.

At five, six, and seven my friends and I were obsessed with Grease (we used deflated balloons to make leather pants for our Barbie dolls) and Jaws (we played “shark attack” in the pool, and actually listened to the life guards at the beach).

At ten, my friends and I were deemed old enough to ride our bikes to the local movie theater. In groups of three or four or six, we’d meet outside the tan, cement building, and head inside where we’d watch kid-friendly fare like Escape to Witch Mountain or The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark. At twelve, in a different city and state, my friends and I saw Annie at least a dozen times (we’d grown up with the soundtrack to the musical), but that summer also gave us a few movies I saw with my mother and the new members of our family, my stepfather, stepbrother, and step-grandmother (Bubbie): E.T. and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Those movie trips made an impression on Bubbie, too. Until the day she died, any time she visited she wanted to know if there was another Star Trek film to see.

As I grew older, my movie tastes changed somewhat, but sitting in a dark theater with popcorn, junior mints, and a soda so big it was practically a tanker was still the activity in between music camp and drama camp and taking original credit classes in summer school. The year I was fourteen, we had Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and, yes, another Star Trek entry (number three, The Search for Spock), but we also had Sixteen Candles, Hard to Hold (which, I’m not above admitting, my girlfriends and I saw multiple times mostly because of Rick Springfield’s naked butt), Streets of Fire, and Firestarter, which is what caused me to become enamored with Stephen King’s writing, thus starting another summer tradition of reading his novels and avoiding cellars and sewer grates.

Later movie experiences often involved more than just the movie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home caused a sort of cognitive dissonance every time I saw it, because I expected sunny, hot, Fresno to be drenched in rain, as the end of the film was. A Fish Called Wanda was part of a weekend of adventures during my first year at the University of San Francisco – one that involved ghost hunting at the Lone Mountain campus, and a city-wide blackout.

landmark-s-magnolia-theatreA controversial art film, The Lover, about a French schoolgirl’s affair with a much older Chinese man in 1920’s Saigon, was also the first movie I saw in the middle of a rare, rainy summer afternoon, in a theater empty except for me and my then-lover, who was ten years older than my twenty-one-year-old self.

Star Trek: Generations was the first movie I saw with my now-husband, and the scene of our first kiss. (We met online, and he rode a bus for three days to meet me in person. Let me tell you – that is real love.)

Apollo 13 saved us from an evening in an apartment with a broken air conditioner. A summer classics series that included Casablanca came with gelato. We walked hand in hand through downtown Dallas after seeing Midnight in Paris, and we danced in the parking lot after seeing Mama Mia (admit it: you did, too).

While I love old movie houses and art films, my husband is much more into summer blockbusters full of space battles and explosions. We compromise, of course, trading who gets to choose the movie. Most often, these days, we go to the local Studio Movie Grill, about eight miles from our house – this despite the fact that there are two movie theaters in our neighborhood – because it eliminates the need to decide if we’re eating before or after the film, and where.

I love the old movie theaters in San Francisco, and the modern IMAX theaters in San Jose and Dallas that I’ve been to, but my favorite theaters ever were the Century theaters across the street from the Winchester Mystery House – yes, that one. They’re all closed now, but they were giant dome theaters with only one or two screens in each. The biggest one had seating for a thousand, and if you were among the first four hundred people in the door, you’d get an awesome seat, though, truly, none were bad.

Going to a movie there came with a sense of grandeur that I don’t remember ever feeling at the movies anywhere else, but it was also seasoned with a great deal of fun. When we went there for big opening night showings, after waiting in line in the parking lot for three hours or longer, it was like a party. People would be bouncing beach balls from the balcony to the main floor and back, and one time a gentleman in full Klingon regalia (I think it was for First Contact) garnered applause from the entire house by standing up on his chair and announcing: “I have a cell phone and I am turning it OFF. You should, too.”

Unlike many of my friends, I don’t like empty theaters. Part of the thrill, for me, is grooving on the energy of the crowd.

We haven’t yet been to the movies this weekend, but both Deadpool II and Solo: A Star Wars Story are awaiting our attention. Still, the heat index is supposed to be just as high next weekend, and I’m always up for spending a few hours in cool, dark escapism.

If I’m not in the pool, you’ll find me at the movies.


About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.