Rhyme and rhythm

I’ve said before that writing is as essential as breath to the writer.

So, finding ways to write means that I’m no longer holding my breath.

My father was a poet—although I’m not sure he knew it.

He loved rhyme and alliteration—the creativity and rhythm of it all.

Everyone he loved, he gave a rhyme-based nickname. Mine shall remain a closely guarded secret here. Yet, so many family and friends sat with reticent smiles remembering their lovingly bestowed monikers as we memorialized him late last year.

It may have been his influence that led me first to the belief that my writing gift was as a poet. Although, I later embraced that I am firmly drawn to prose. I am a writer who writes as celebration, as therapy, as offering, and more.

One of the challenges that I’m finding about the current coronavirus-induced moment is that it has completely disrupted my rhythm. The rhythm of my life largely drove the rhythm of my writing—something which I didn’t fully understand until that rhythm was abruptly disrupted.

I write daily—even now although some days it’s utter nonsense.

Some days I write a single phrase or sentence, other days I write for hours.

My general writing patterns before this were legendary.

I wrote in the morning.

I wrote in pockets and crannies between meetings.

I am even one of those people who gets in a deep writing groove on planes.

I’ve also been known to pull over mid drive to capture a thought or two.

I wrote in my work office.

I wrote in coffee shops.

I wrote in the library.

I wrote in botanical gardens and quiet corners of museums.

So, although I know logically that this moment of a global pandemic is nothing I’ve encountered and, thus, I should not be surprised that it would impact my ‘normal’ routines and rituals. I truly thought the transition to writing from home would be smoother for me.

I can quite literally write almost anywhere, so surely I can write here I presumed.

What I have found, however, is that the monotony of writing in the same place, same space—day in and day out—has completely thrown my rhythm into chaos.

So, I’m finding a new rhythm—one that is not driven by the external demands of a life on the move and in which I’m frequently on the go. The novelty of a new space or new view, or the comfort that comes from sliding into a familiar booth of a favorite coffee shop or nook of a commonly visited garden can no longer be the cues that stimulate creativity and word flow.

Now, I’m having to draw on the internal compass that drives the deposition of words from my inner voice to the page.

I’ve said before that writing is as essential as breath to the writer.

So, finding ways to write means that I’m no longer holding my breath.

Breathing is now the new rhythm…breathing oxygen in and expelling carbon dioxide out to sustain my life.

Now I’m also writing to the new rhythm of ‘breathing’ as composition—taking reflection in and expelling out words to make sense of the world through writing which is indeed as essential to me as my lifelong form of breathing—and certainly is sustaining me in this uncertain moment.

What are you learning new about yourself in this atypical moment? I’d love to hear more about it. As always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.

Spring…as it’s always been & as it’s never been before

Annually in spring I go for regular walks to check-in on my tree neighbors and other annual plants.

I like to follow when the trees and bushes in particular enter budburst and the emergence of their new leaves.

So many of the newly emerging leaves are beautifully red—a process I once studied in oak trees—due to the mass synthesis of anthocyanins. I love to take a weekly walk to see what’s changing rapidly during spring as some plants reemerge anew from the ground or new leaves emerge from deciduous plants and trees.

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Tree with newly emerging, brightly red spring leaves

Today’s walk was my first intentional exploration for spring 2020 and a welcome respite from my day working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It occurred to me as I walked and observed new plantings in neighbors’ landscapes and the newest leaves on my familiar tree neighbors that this spring was in some ways exactly the same as all of my first spring walks of years past—and yet this year is like none before.

My walk was marked by nearly deserted streets. When a rare other neighbor was seen, we both took a wide berth to maintain social distancing even as we waved and smiled in passing.

The reduced traffic—foot and car—led to a quieter walk in which I was keenly aware of sounds, including the humming of electricity, the sound of tires of lone approaching cars on asphalt, the chirping of busy spring birds, and more. There was an absence of idle chats of passing neighbors and friends, a rare heard voice of a playing child. The silence was loudly jarring in ways.

Yet, the silence allowed me to look at even the regular afresh. I stood in awe of the same buds eager to release spring leaves—a process I watch each year, but in the absence of distractions I had a more laser focus and uninterrupted attention.

In our work domains, it feels that we are facing the opposite. We face a time that feels super congested with news of the spread of the coronavirus and skyrocketing numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and associated tragic deaths. Our schedules are congested with trainings and what seems at times endless offerings of Zoom gatherings—whether classes, community gatherings, or business meetings. Parents are trying to balance working from home with running home school classes and managing their own and dependents’ mental, physical and emotional needs.

These personal spaces too likely have moments that seem as if they’ve always been, but more likely your days are like mine full of moments that highlight the reality that we’ve never experienced anything like this before.

I’m challenging myself to reflect upon those things that feel most important moment to moment.

Today that meant braving my first walk of spring to reconnect with the plants that are emerging anew in whole or in part and drawing upon the lesson that they have rested over winter to prepare for this new spring.

I don’t know what lessons we’ll emerge from this crisis with, but one I truly hope that resonates for so many of us is how interconnected we are—even when we can’t experience this connection physically.

Next week I’ll take the same path I took this week to see what changes have emerged. Because of the reality of this moment in our global history, I don’t know how I will have changed over this week, but I draw some peace from knowing that the plants will continue progressing into spring based on their purpose.

I must find the strength to do the same.

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.

The meaning of “meaning”

Whatever things bring you a sense of meaning….Whatever things that help you find meaning in meaning…whatever things require your attention and care…may you pursue them fully and in all their glory.

As many of us stay “safe” at home in the face of a persistent COVID-19 pandemic, I’m intentionally reflecting on the meaning of meaning and how that “sits” relative to the daily decisions that need be made about how we spend our time.

We have to make these decisions daily, even when things are more “normal” than in a pandemic. Yet in specific times like these where we are staying safe at home with other responsibilities—childcare and homeschooling, eldercare or coordinating such care from a distance, care of pets, additional chores that are intensified with increased time at home, and lack of access to some self-care options such as visiting the gym or leisure time and energy for reading—the range of flexibility that we have in making choices can be diminished.

With many of these “at home” responsibilities being things that can’t wait or be easily compartmentalized, options of “keeping up” with scholarly or professional demands can rapidly dissipate or the realities of what can be accomplished can be significantly less than anticipated. This is particularly true when also weighing the physical and mental costs for some of moving much of their work—teaching that has received much attention, but also other forms of work and meetings—to online platforms and formats.

While I consistently try to prioritize my own definition of success, impact, and what it means to have “meaning” in my work and purpose, changes in our environment are best met with a time of reflection about “meaning” in a particular time, space, and context.

The prevailing messages in many academic circles—and associated frameworks of support—are focused on the premise that we simply physically move our bodies from one work location to another and accordingly move our focus to our homes and the goal of keeping going. Across the nation, these messages of resilience are branded as keep “learning”, keep “teaching”, keep “researching” perspectives. Yet, the likelihood of these being spoken into reality is limited for many.

Many of us desperately need someone to “keep supporting” and “keep listening” to us explain what our true priorities must be in this time like none we have ever seen before. What is needed most in this time is grace and understanding.

Grace extended from each of us to ourselves, but also grace extended in what may be expected of us.

Also needed is understanding that each of us seeks peace and well-being in such moments in ways that resonate with our values, our own processes of making meaning, and through strategies that feed our motivations and sense of self.

What I am finding in this time is that something as BIG—as unprecedented—as this global pandemic is sending me on a search for and deep reflection about the “meaning” of “meaning”. Whereas for me writing can be a panacea, a celebration, a mourning, a respite, and so much more, in these times I find myself thinking deeply about the meaning of my writing.

Because each moment can seem weightier than the last during a global pandemic of this magnitude, I find it hard to focus on writing about topics that are only measured in terms of whether I’m being “productive”—quantity of words produced, words for the sake of words but not linked to improving someone’s possibility for advancing a “worthy” goal, words linked in some way to pursuit of status in an academy that may emerge from this crisis understanding its worth differently [or perhaps so I hope in regards to this latter point].

Yet, I know, as much as I know the seriousness of this current moment, that I process the world through words. Thus, writing will remain critically important to me in this moment.

So, as I reflect on meaning, I ask myself which topics can I engage, which words can I juxtapose, which phrases can I turn, that may bring meaning to the meaning of this time. I draw on all the sages, word-masters, and lyrical philosophers whom I can conjure to find a guidepost.

I know that I’ll write through the crisis, but I’ll follow the wisdom of Queen Mother Toni Morrison and I will be “writing for life”.

There's a difference between writing for a living and writing for life. If you write for a living, you make enormous compromises.... If you write for ...

My writing in this time will not in the least be about productivity.

As writing is so frequently for me, it will be my way of processing the world, my way of finding meaning in the face of senselessness, my way of hoping that I can sit at the feet of whatever teacher I find in the universe and demonstrate my learning in writing.

Whatever things bring you a sense of meaning….Whatever things that help you find meaning in meaning…whatever things require your attention and care…may you pursue them fully and in all their glory.

May they bring meaning…and comfort…to you now and far beyond.

As always, if you have thought or feedback on this post, find me @BerondaM.