My essay, I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You, appeared on the Brevity blog a few days ago and I wanted to share it with you. If you love creative nonfiction like I do, this blog, which has more than 46,000 readers, is one you should take a look at.
By Ramona M. Payne
My mother learned at an early age how to take care of herself. Her father died when she was six and life for her, her sister, and their mother was hard. I imagine that because her life was shaken by death and financial struggle, she sometimes had to go along with […]
You need to know two things about me. Number one, I am a firstborn in a family with four younger brothers. Number two, until I got almost to high school I usually thought I had the right answer. About everything. I remember the first time I did not have an answer to a question. One summer, I went to vacation bible school at St. John A.M.E. Zion Church with one of my brothers. I have mostly good memories of the experience, I may have even known some of the children who were there from my first two years of grade school at Rockdale Elementary. By that summer, I had spent a few years at Annunciation, a Catholic school, where I did well in school, all As except for one in handwriting, which although it broke my streak, I did not fret because after all, it was just handwriting. Continue reading
Last week, I devoted one day—I call it my Quiet Day—to a day of quiet reflection and preparation for the year ahead. This has been an annual practice and it is my way to start the year in a less rushed state of mind. I don’t bother with resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Nearly 20 years ago, I went through the training to earn a certification in coaching, and even though I no longer coach clients, I still use many of the tools when I want to work towards change in my life.
I began with a look at my 2018 calendar, going week by week to see how I had used the days. I remembered little victories, trips I took, days where I stayed home and enjoyed working in my yard. I thought about the people I spent time with, the meetings and events I attended, and then I wrote down on one sheet of paper the highlights of the past year. It is easy to quickly forget what we have done, felt, or experienced. I saw many happy, positive moments, and the exercise also helped me see where I had spent time doing things that I did not feel were in alignment with my goals, values or needs. Nothing to feel bad about, just something to observe.
Once I had looked over the past year, it was time to dream ahead. I identified a few areas where I want to focus, of course, one is my writing, and then I thought about the steps I would have to take to move forward. I felt a strong desire to try a new thing this year, perhaps something that is a stretch for me. I have not yet pinned down exactly what it will be; I have a few ideas, but I am certain the answer will come to me soon.
This morning, a question popped up as I mulled over an invitation. My inclination is to sometimes say yes, forgetting that no is also an option, often because it’s nice to be included, I am truly interested or curious, I like the people, the place, or the issue, or a sense of if I can, I should. But today I asked myself, “What is most in alignment with my goal or need for this moment, for this day?”Only then did I realize that although participating might be a good thing, it was not the best thing, for me, at this time. I’ve always said that as you get clear on your Yes, the No or Not Right Now becomes more apparent.
Because I can look back with gratitude and understanding that I am still learning, I can move forward with my dreams and goals for 2019, eager and excited to see how it all unfolds. Taking a quiet day is transformative for me, but it does not have to be done at the first of the year. Any time is a good time to look at your life and see if you are headed in the right direction.
I have great news to share—Black Domers: African-American Students at Notre Dame in Their Own Words, edited by Don Wycliff and David Krashna, was selected by U.S. Catholic Magazine as its January 2019 book club selection. My essay, which describes my experience as a Notre Dame student years ago, is one of many in this anthology. The book tells how Black students first began to attend Notre Dame, how we made it through, what challenges and opportunities we faced, and what we have to say about our time there and relationship to the University, now that there has been time to reflect. The book starts with the first Black student, Frazier Thompson (class of 1947), and continues to alumni who graduated last year. The stories begin in the 1940s and provide interesting historical context.
Writing the essay was a rewarding experience for me, because it reveals what I love best about the essay form. Not only can a good essay connect us to a more universal story, but it requires the writer to do more than recount what happened. Writing an essay requires that you try to make sense of how the event or person has shaped you, what you took away from it. I learned there is not one typical ND experience, nor did we all respond the same way when confronted with challenges. All of the stories are not upbeat, but they demonstrate the resilience of the students.
I hope you will be able to read some of the stories, and would love to hear from you if you do.
Update: Some have asked where the book can be found. It is available on Amazon and in the Notre Dame bookstore if you happen to be in South Bend, IN. Thank you for your support and interest. I also wanted to add that in lieu of any payment, the authors agreed to support an endowment for scholarships so other students can have their own ND story.
Over the last two weeks, I made some changes to the shade garden in my backyard and the flower garden in front of my living room window. Even though the plants were thriving, I spent time clearing some of them out. In the back, there are hosta, some with white-tipped leaves, others are more bluish-green, and another has leaves that are enormous (Empress Wu). I have two kinds of ferns intermingled with the hostas, and there are also deep pink impatiens planted in clusters. This part of my yard, on the north side, does not get nearly the sun that the front does, so I use shade-loving plants that like to keep their feet a bit wet because they thrive here.
But my garden also has a plant that is a bit of a bully—a purple iris that sends out a slim flower in early summer and what is left after the flower dies back is a mass of spindly leaves. I don’t mind that the season for the purple flowering is short, everything has its own season. What bothers me is that over the last several years, in parts of the yard, this iris has pushed out the hostas and peonies that used to share its space. So two weeks ago, after a rainy day moistened the soil, I grabbed my shovel and dug a massive clump of it out of the yard.
Normally I might try to find another place to put a plant that seems so native to my yard and grows well, but I knew in a few years’ time, I would have the same problem, too much iris creeping in, other more delicate plants being shoved aside. So I tossed the clumps into the yard waste bin, where they were carried off the next day for pickup. Even though I shook off as much dirt as I could while tossing the plants from one bin to another, I was surprised by how heavy the first trash can remained; it was hard to heave it up and into the yard waste.
The front flower garden is going to take more work, but that might have to wait until September, when I can divide and transplant the purple and red coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) that have gone from a handful of plants to a dense plot of flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and many types of birds. Compared to the irises, this will take more time but the plants are not nearly as heavy to move around.
Yard work reminds me of life – the need to periodically prune, trim, and even toss when I realize I have allowed excess to creep in. Sometimes it is hard work to decide what to keep, what to get rid of, because I want to believe it all belongs, that there is space for everything I think I need to do. But when I sit back and reflect on what is working and what needs to go, or what can be postponed until later, just like the transplanting of the coneflowers to another spot in my yard, I realize that in creating a bit more space in my life, I can enjoy it more. I feel less encumbered, and can move more lightly, and that is a good thing.
There is a bothersome vine that has taken root in this area, and occasionally I see it has popped up in my yard in a space where it is not welcome, twisting through a rosebush or winding through the peony leaves. I don’t ignore it like I did the irises. Instead of tackling the vine all at once, I will pull at it a little at a time, leaving space, and tending to any overgrowth before it takes over.
Several years ago, I left a job that I mostly enjoyed, planning to take a one-year sabbatical to sort out what my next move would be. I was a development officer, also known as a fundraiser, for a large midwestern university with national name recognition. I believed in the programs for which I fundraised, the visual and performing arts, scholarships, endowments, and I met amazing benefactors, many of whom I still maintain friendships with. But I knew I needed a change, wanted to explore some of the stories that I carried in my head and heart. I had been able to spend time with highly creative people—artists, musicians, sculptors, actors, and writers, while in that position. When we had time, I asked about their processes, how they studied, when they found the time to practice and create. Continue reading
We are about three weeks into the new year and I hope you are off to an inspired start. This week I wrote a guest post for Don’t Stop Now and it is about losing weight after 50, although the tips can apply regardless of your age.
Don’t Stop Now: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life is a forthcoming book geared to the specific challenges of baby boomer women.The book helps women determine ways to continue to grow—bringing vital, creative contributions to the world. Topics include physical wellness, emotional health, finances, relationships, behaviors, appearance, learning something new, giving back, and leading a balanced life.
You can find my post here—it is called The ABCs of Setting a Weight Loss Goal. Let me know what you think and if you have tips to share that are helping you lead a healthier life.
My father has always purchased Chryslers. I remember the green Plymouth Fury III that he drove to my friend’s house one afternoon to pick me up; it was not our first car but I loved the surprise of him showing up in a new one. Later there was a light blue gray Chrysler that he drove on his carpool days when I was in high school. For a few weeks until he got it repaired, the horn used to randomly sound off if he turned the steering wheel a certain way. The intermittent honks and beeps could have been embarrassing but I ignored my friends’ quizzical looks and acted as if it was the nervous tic of a car overly stimulated by chatty teenage girls. Continue reading