Hope In Spite of Everything, #WQWWC

Image from Reelreddy.com

The year 2020 has been difficult for a lot of people, all over the world, affecting different individuals in different ways. The pandemic brought some difficulties to me, although some trials were already in place apart from it.

Thankfully, the virus itself did not hurt me or my loved ones very directly. I do live in the New York City area, one of the areas hardest hit early on in the spring of 2020, and I remember continuously reading of a new victim of the virus in my Facebook feed. Only one of my brothers may have had the virus, but he was never sick enough, thankfully, to be hospitalized.

My animal care business came to almost a standstill, partly because nobody could travel and, partly because working people, who sometimes needed care for their animals while they were away from home, were now working at home. A few years earlier, I’d already lost my job as a newspaper reporter, a job I enjoyed and held for 10 years.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

My job loss from the paper coincided almost exactly with my mother developing some health issues: breast cancer, which, scary as it sounds, was not as great an issue for her in the long run as something more crippling, a severe spinal issue that left her chair-bound and in agonizing pain whenever she tried to move. Strangely, these two health issues for mom, as different as they are, developed simultaneously. Mom had to have some scans done for her cancer, and the nurses were shocked to see how excruciating it was for her to get her body in position for the scans. It was, perhaps, a blessing to my parents that I was home and able to be my mother’s caretaker, but it also made things complicated for me personally. I now had a “job” that was consuming most of my time and energy but wasn’t paying me and was making it challenging for me to do something that would pay me.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Then, in August, I had another setback when my father and I were both attacked by a dog I was caring for. For my father, the injury was serious enough to require two surgeries. (The function of his hand is fine. One surgery closed the wound, and another was a skin graft.) This made me wary for a long time of taking in unknown animals.

I had all sorts of hopes for myself as a writer and book author and built this website shortly after my newspaper job ended, but it seemed I had countless distractions and obstacles to even giving my site the attention it deserved and needed. To frustrate things further, I experienced a computer failure, and for a very long period had no access to any of my book works in progress. Anyone who is a writer can feel the pain of this scene below from Little Women, though unlike Jo, in spite of very frustrating circumstances, my document losses were not permanent.

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

In spite of all of this, in recent times, I am feeling more hopeful than ever, downright cheerful even. I am a strong believer and have always had hope in God even through my problems, but there were times when I thought His ideas for my life must be very different from mine. That is probably still somewhat true, but I also feel that He just might indulge some of the hopes I have for myself.

There has just been a snowball effect of hopeful changes in my life. My mom’s pain has greatly improved for mysterious reasons. Spinal surgery seemed to fix things temporarily, but this was followed by a serious and lasting regression. Now, for unknown reasons, she is better, not perfect, but better. Both of my aging parents require more of my help than at an earlier time, but mom is also more independent than she was at her painful worst, which frees my time up considerably.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I am beginning to get more and more animal care jobs and new clients, and, in between things, amazingly, I am finding time to write. Writing and creative expression seem so key to my happiness.

Just a short while ago, I took a walk with a little doggy and prayed that God would help me be creative. I’ve already explained that I’m a strong believer. I talk to God often, and I like to be creative. I don’t know how often I pray to be creative. Seconds later, I looked at a tree I was walking past, described it in my head, then later reworked it into a haiku and posted it to the blog with a photo of the tree. That little haiku became my most popular post.

I thought to myself that haiku are short and simpler to write than a novel or a long article that requires research. If I have an audience for haiku, I ought to write more of them. One thing led to another in a way I’m not sure I can even explain, but I became aware of blogging poetry challenges and poetry communities on WordPress. I began writing more poetry and just about quadrupled my blog views and engagement, at least on some days. I felt I was connecting with people and not just putting out words into the stratosphere that went who knows where. I still want to write novels and articles and all sorts of things, but I think I will continue to write poetry also.

I did not plan, at first, to make this post so personal, but I suppose, what is applicable here to you as the reader, is that, no matter how dismal things may look at a certain time, you can never tell how future events may unfold in a positive way.

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

I know not all of my followers share my exact beliefs, but bear with me. I’d like to share a song on hope that comes from a Christian faith point of view. Somewhat recently, I watched a video on CCM music put out by an unbelieving (or at least neutral) YouTuber, who shared that it was his least favorite musical genre. In many ways, I agree with him, which might surprise you after what I just told you. I feel much of today’s CCM music is lacking in creativity (and sometimes has some other issues.) The YouTuber made an interesting comment as an outsider, sharing that he feels that music of faith should have a lot of passion, feeling and conviction. This is a Southern gospel song, and I don’t think you will find any lack of feeling or conviction here. It has some poetic lyrics.

The hope that is within us, erupting from the sand

Is pure and clear refreshment in a dry and weary land,

No scorching circumstances can stop that eager flow

of hope that springs eternal. It’s hope that floods my soul.

This was written for Marsha Ingrao’s Writer’s Quotes Wednesday Writing Challenge. Marsha assured me that I had a week to get in my participating post. I see I’m getting mine in just in the nick of time.

A Beautiful Heart > A Beautiful Face, #WQWWC

Quote by Karen Salmonsohn, Good Looks Fade. But a Good Heart Keeps You Beautiful Forever. [PIC] – Positively Positive Positively Positive

It might be cliche to say, “Beauty is only skin deep” or “It’s what’s inside that counts,” but there’s a reason why we have these expressions.

Years ago, when I was a teen, a girl I had recently met was talking to me about boys who were flirting with her. She told me — as if she were annoyed — “I know they’re only interested in me because of my looks!”

I wasn’t able to relate. At that point in life, I had never suspected a guy of being interested in me based solely on my looks, and it also appeared to me that she was a little overconfident and on the verge of bragging. She was rather an attractive girl with bright greenish-blue eyes and curly blonde hair.

Photo by Angela Ng on Unsplash

Years later, I had more of an understanding for how she was thinking. Some years back, I spent some time on an online dating site, and the majority of men who contacted me initiated contact in a way I did not prefer. They complimented my photo — which might not sound too awful — but they also said little else.

I had made out a profile filled with interesting information about me, and, in many cases, it seemed apparent that these gentlemen had not bothered to read any of it. The photo was all that mattered. The girl I met as a teen wanted to be appreciated for reasons other than her appearance, and, at that time, I understood her feelings. I did end up speaking to a couple of guys who did connect to me through mutual interests.

Our appearance is, perhaps, the least important aspect of our being. I’m not saying we should not dress nicely, beautify ourselves, take care of our health or any of these things, but, comparatively, it is far less important than our character and inner qualities.

The Bible says in I Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Character is certainly more important where God is concerned.

Photo by Ryan ‘O’ Niel on Unsplash

It does feel at times that we live in a world where people are consumed with appearances. Shallow people exist, and perhaps some women would love to be adored for their beauty and nothing more. Still, it seems beautiful and average people alike, on some deeper level, want more of a meaningful connection.

Appearances are also something over which we have little control. We can change our weight up or down, but we can’t change our height. We can learn cosmetic and hairstyling techniques, but we can’t change our actual features short of plastic surgery.

I read once that it is better to compliment a guy on his sense of style (something he’s wearing) than on something more personal like his features. I think the same is true for women. It’s more of a true compliment to show appreciation for someone’s personal tastes and style, their creative expression put into their appearance, than to compliment them on aspects of themselves over which they have no control.

Photo by Zeny Rosalina on Unsplash

I think beauty can be seen in all sorts of people when they’re good people. Do you ever find that an attractive person, who is arrogant or shows poor character, begins to look less attractive and an average person, who is full of kindness and personality, begins to look more attractive?

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash
(Yes, this is an attractive face but seems to show a lot of personality also.)

So, compliment and appreciate people on their choices of jewelry, ties, shoes. It’s a great opener. (I just complimented a stranger in the grocery store on an interesting floral jacket she wore.) And let’s look beyond appearances and appreciate others for the strength of their character.

This was from a prompt on Writer’s Quote Wednesdays from Marsha Ingrao. The theme was beauty, and bloggers were asked to respond with any form of post on that theme but had to include a quote.

What are your thoughts?

Try the Pomodoro Technique

For Time Efficiency

Photo by Michael Meyer on Flickr

I never felt I would be sharing a post on a time efficiency technique, because I don’t feel like time efficiency is my greatest strength. But because I’ve had some frustrations in meeting my goals and finding or managing my time to work on them, I looked into this technique recently and tried it.

“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato. I have some funny associations with this word. When I was a teenager with a singing and drama group, our leader, an Italian-American, and another teen on the team had a running joke about “pomodoro.” They would say it very dramatically, with Italian inflection and hand gestures, and joked that if you said it just like that, others would be convinced you were saying something important in Italian.

Well, I’m not sure that’s true, but I remember those funny guys when I think about this technique, which is named for the tomato “pomodoro” kitchen timer. The idea is that you choose a task and then set aside 25 minutes for focused work on that task. You set the timer for 25 minutes.

When the time is up, you record your progress and then take a five minute break. After the break, if you still need to finish the task, you set the timer once again for 25 minutes and then another five minute break. A 25-minute work session plus a five minute break equals a pomodoro. After four pomodoros, you can take a longer, 15 minute break. Then, you start over again, perhaps choosing a new task. You can find an online pomodoro timer here.

I have recently used this technique for different computer work related jobs: writing emails, writing on one of my Creature Kingdom children’s stories, creating the slide visuals for a YouTube video and even for writing this blog post.

Lately, my break rewards have been watching YouTube videos for fun that are unrelated to my projects. I’m not sure I will always go with that reward. One article I read suggested doing something not involving a screen during your break times. I may sometimes decide to get up and move around for a bit. Some fitness YouTubers even create mini fitness routines for, say, the duration of a five minute song. I can see how something like that might be useful if you’re in a situation where you are working from home. (I understand you might not be able to get away with this in an office situation!) You can stretch out and avoid some of the tension that comes from working on a computer for long periods. I sometimes find that movement and music help inspire my creativity anyway, so if you are like me in that sense, this might actually help you to work better.

Here is a video from a fitness YouTuber I follow who has several of these “five minute sweat sessions.”

I have had a number of struggles with fitting in my creative projects. Lately, I’ve had to attend more to my aging parents and some of their physical and other needs. I also work in doggy care, and the demands of caring for dogs, particularly young and active ones, cause frequent disruptions. Thankfully, my parents are having some improvement in their health, and I am finding more blocks of time when I can create. When I do have this time, I don’t want to complicate things by sabotaging myself.

Photo by Jonas on Unsplash

Years ago, I read a book about Sweden and Swedish culture. The writer compared Swedish friendliness to a ketchup bottle, saying, “At first, nothing comes out, but once it starts coming, it’s hard to stop it.” (In spite of the quotation marks, this is not a quote verbatim. In fact, I have forgotten the book title and author, so I can’t give it a proper attribution.)

I’ve known some Swedish-Americans and have a bit of Swedish heritage myself. The saying seems to be true of people I know. I have since then often thought about that ketchup analogy but applied to a completely different subject — creative writing. Though it’s unintentional, it seems we are sticking with the tomato theme in this post.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

There are times when creative ideas are flowing fast in my creative writing, but if life causes me to neglect a project for a while, at first coming back to it, the ketchup bottle of creativity requires a little pounding. It’s also at these times when I might be tempted to procrastinate or do some Internet wandering that is not necessarily pertinent to the task at hand.

While writing, I do find it necessary to search the Internet for, perhaps, thesaurus use, visual inspiration for writing a scene or what I call “mini research.” For instance, I just recently named a minor character in my children’s story, a fox. Foxes are supposed to be clever, so I looked up “boys’ names that mean clever,” found a list on a baby name site and chose one … Redmond. Redmond is a good name for a fox, isn’t it? I only now see the similarity to Redd Foxx, the lead actor in “Sanford & Sons,” but I still think, Redmond it is.

I think the Pomodoro Technique helped me a good deal. I stayed off of email and Facebook during my focused blocks of work. I forced myself to concentrate on the matter at hand, and soon the ideas were flowing more easily. After each pomodoro, I recorded my progress in my tasks. With my writing tasks, I recorded a word count but also summed up any revisions and recorded any Internet searches.

With the timer going, I was also more motivated not to linger on Internet information that wasn’t pertinent. For instance, I looked up information relating to carnival rides for my Creature Kingdom story on Hyacinth Mouse. I didn’t remember what a tilt-a-whirl ride was like, but after looking into things, my imaginary ride became a hybrid of a tea cup ride and and a tilt-a-whirl ride. I didn’t need to watch an entire video of a tea cup ride, since that is already familiar, so I stopped it and didn’t linger on that information.

My own illustration of Hyacinth Mouse in her tea cup ride

This is very silly, but around midnight, after my first day trying this method, a song was in my head, “Pomodoro, pomodoro, pomodoro!” It wasn’t a “pomodoro” song. It was Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” song from the 80s, but I had mentally replaced the repeated “Amadeus” with “pomodoro.” I wasn’t even particularly trying to be clever. My brain just made an instantaneous, almost subconscious association. The two words do have the same number of syllables and some similar sounds in similar places. Note to self: midnight brain might be creative? Maybe, a “pomodoro” song will come to your mind if you are feeling successful.

Seriously, I think the method has helped me to set aside some focused time and limit distractions. It is also easier to focus for a short period when you know you have a break coming up. I would recommend it for writers and students with studies as well as those doing other types of work on a computer.

Would you try this technique? Have you already tried something like this or some other time efficiency techniques? Let me know in the comments.