Enter Spring – Write & Release

Blackbird Egg - Elizabeth Harper

If you were to peek behind the curtain at GOTJ, you would see more than a few potential posts that read, <no title> Draft.

Some have photos, some don’t, a few are complete and ready to publish needing only a last read-through first. But given what has been happening in the world over the last month or so, my posts seemed like an uninteresting waste of your time and mine. So I let them sit.

It is not the first time I’ve done this … taken an impromptu sabbatical where I have withdrawn into reading while neglecting my writing.

Unfinished potential some might call it.

A friend asked me yesterday how my book was coming along and I while I wanted to say which one, I just said simply, ‘ It’s not. ‘

‘ Oh,’  he said, as he shook his head slowly, ‘ I thought you would be one of the ones to do it. ‘

‘ Well I’m not dead yet! ‘ I said, with a sharper tone than intended.

I tried to explain, but it just sounded like excuses … the car accident, work, a bad case of the blues.

Inside I was thinking … other people get it done despite having full lives, what is wrong with me?

Perfectionism will be my undoing if I let it.

Write and release.

 

Run On Thoughts And Other Stuff

Since I mention run on thoughts in my title, I thought I might include a wild-eyed self-portrait taken in the wee hours on July 4th just before leaving to run what’s billed as ‘The largest 10K in the world.’ Truth told there has been a distinct lack of picture taking in my life over the last few months along with my barely here online presence so this photo is one of only a few recent ones I can share with you.

Both shortages are atypical behavior for me and as you might expect there are a series of reasons why I’ve neglected my normal routines. I’ve had to develop some new ones that have tested me in ways I would like to have avoided, but provided some unexpected lessons along the way. I guess I might have to begrudgingly add that some of these lessens have turned out to be ‘gifts’ in my continued journey.

I’ll be saying more over the next few days, but I’m short on time and long on errands today. My friend David has gone off to Italy and left me the kind use of his car while he’s away so I’m running around taking care of a list that seems to grow longer rather than shorter even as I cross things off as completed.

David, along with my well-traveled friend Carla, have both saved me from a no-car existence (another chapter in the story) while I’ve been here, graciously offering their cars for me to drive more than a few times while they been away this summer.

I also wanted to thank you for all of your kind comments and support on my last post. I am over the moon to have this long stay in my other ‘home’ coming to an end. It’s funny how a wait of few weeks can feel like it will take forever to get here, but also like it’s too short a time to get all the last-minute little things done before I go. I’ve been in the US since April 22 and will mark about 3.5 months away from John when I board the plane to return.

Before now, seven weeks had been our longest separation occurring in 2008 during our first year together. Thank goodness for the internet and Skype. At least we’ve been able to talk a few times a day and send each other things through email. I can’t imagine if we’d only had regular mail to depend on to stay connected. I wonder how couples do this over and over when forced to due to jobs and other circumstances. Thankfully mine will soon be at an end.

I’ll be back to share more later … I’ve got to run on now and cross a bit more off my list.

A Story To Share – Not Just Mine, But Yours

If what I say resonates with you, it is merely because we are both branches on the same tree. ~ W. B. Yeats

I sometimes wonder about the people who visit me here without saying hello. I see them in my sitereader and imagine them reading over coffee or sharing something they’ve found on my blog with someone else in their lives the way I do myself when I find a blogger whose posts resonate with me.

If you are one of the silent, won’t you say hello today and tell me something about yourself. Simple or complex one, I’d like to know more about you.

If you are feeling brave, you might share a dream you have when you are alone in your thoughts or perhaps a secret no one knows about you.

If that makes you feel too exposed, you might tell me which of my earlier posts resonated with you most and why.

Even if you comment regularly, you can share something new. And because it’s often said that there are gifts in being heard, I am going to offer one more.

Using a random number generator to choose a comment, I’ll use something you say in yours to create a mini short story for you.

Comment before Wednesday ends and I’ll choose the winner at 8:00 am (UK time) on Thursday, and post your story this Friday.

 

UK Census 2011, Clues For The Future

It’s census time here and all across the UK, people are either filling out forms on paper or adding their details online. John and I did both. He’s saving the paper copy with the family bible and some other documents providing an easy paper trail for future generations who might be interested in looking back at their family history.

Since I filled out my own details in the section for ‘ Person 2 ‘ in the house on March 27, 2011, it was interesting to see my American side showing itself as I started off by putting an x in boxes instead of tick mark as they call a check mark here. I’m afraid I did not read the directions as is my way and habit took over. (click on the highlighted area for a photo of us from my first visit)

It’s kind of funny to think about how different things such as blogging will make tracking an ancestor easier in the future. There is likely to be a record of my 400 posts as of today on this blog and the 82 other posts found on my first GOTJ blog.

If I want to know more about my family history, I have to search through old census records like this one from June 19, 1900. My mother complied two binders with loads of family details, but hit some sort of dead end when it came to my great-grandmother on her maternal side. I did a little snooping last night by going to Family Search, a free information site in the US to look for my great-grandmother and some of her immediate family. (Click twice to enlarge any photo)

Here you can see Bessie L. (Lee) Hood was 19 and still at home on June 19, 1900 when the census was taken and you can see her mother, Cornelia was slightly older than her father, John. I could also tell what they did for a living and that they lived in Sparta, a detail that could be helpful in tracking back in time for more clues.

The 2011 UK Census results will not be released until 100 years from now to protect the privacy of people while they are living. As that will be 150 years after my date of birth, I expect it will be my great-great grandchildren (if there are any ) who will look over the census records and say, ” Look there’s where great-great-grandma Elizabeth Harper followed her heart to the UK, marrying a Winchurch and becoming the first in the family to have a dual citizenship. ”  Then one will likely turn to the other with a slightly superior look and say, ” I knew that already, because I read her blog. “

I had to add that last sentence about reading the blog as it’s become a bit of a joke with me. When topics come up in passing about local happenings and someone says they hadn’t heard whatever we happen to be discussing, I say ,” You mean you didn’t know that? ” Which I follow up with,” You would … if you read my blog! “

 

One Step At A Time

The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs…

one step at a time.

~ Joe Girard

My sister Margaret gets the credit for the photo of me climbing the 280 steps to the top inside the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I thought this photograph was a good one to use in a thank you to all of the readers and friends who took time to leave a supportive message with regard to my writing and ever so slight disappointment over receiving a polite  ” not interested ” response from the newspaper I queried recently.

I have found such fine support for the writing I do here and I am never sure I let you know how much it is appreciated. Mary from A Breath of Fresh Air left me a very kind comment yesterday about writing a book, in which she said she that she would not hesitate to gift a collection of stories taken from my blog to her friends. It was just the lift I needed yesterday to pick up my pace mentally and refocus on the steps before me.

Thanks again to all who visit here at Gifts Of The Journey and thanks for your support.

The Big Countdown Begins – Ten

It may seem a bit self-indulgent to announce to the world that I have a big birthday fast approaching but turning fifty seems as if it should have some special attention paid to it. I have no clear idea of what I will be saying over the next nine days leading up to my birthday, but I plan to post a bit of something that will be quite shamelessly, all about me. That’s right, I will be posting daily right up to my birthday on September 10. I have not planned a thing in terms of topic and will write whatever comes to mind which can be my favorite kind writing and might lead to some interesting insights.

Some people enjoy having big parties to celebrate special birthdays, but I actually tend to feel a bit shy and out of place when I’m the absolute center of attention so I am pleased to be making memories with a smaller gathering of people who care about me. Can two (John and my sister Margaret) be considered a gathering?

After a detailed examination of my accomplishments over the last year, I find that some of my goals for forty-nine have not been met. I must confess that not one thing I’ve written in my forty-ninth year has gone out the door electronically or otherwise in search of a publisher. I am not sure why I have dragged my feet so badly when this has been at the top of my list for so long.

I have watched as other bloggers and writers have found their footing while juggling huge responsibilities and managed to publish while I write and research and think too much about the best way to find an audience for my work. I don’t feel jealous about their success just a bit disappointed in myself for not getting more done by now.

Watching others seems to be a life long habit with me and I tend to take a bit longer to find my footing once I’ve figured out the steps. In the photograph above, my fourteen year-old self is on the far right looking uncertain about what the group is doing or how I might join in.

I still feel like that fourteen year-old sometimes … uncertain about doing things just right even though I know now after almost fifty years of living that movement in any direction is sometimes all you need.

Walking The Talk – Matching Actions With Words

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.

~ Henry Van Dyke

The other day when I wrote a bit at the end of this post about sharing a dream you might have or anything else you wished to discuss, I received an email from someone who wrote about her desire to have a dream that motivated her or a hobby or cause that could be as she put it, “close to her heart.”  She went on to say that she thought her fears around financial stability and the American economy might be one of the things keeping her from allowing herself to ” find her dream and pursue it with passion.”

I thought her email was an excellent place to open a conversation around living with passion and going after your dreams despite fears of not having or being enough.

A few years ago my friend Patrice would occasionally watch American Idol (when I begged her to stay and watch it with me) and as she listened to the anguish of those who were not going on to the next round crying and wailing about how, ” Singing was their whole life and all they’d ever wanted, ” Patrice would say in the direction of the television, ” So sing, find places to do it if it’s that important.” Of course this comment opened the door to conversations about singing without public acclaim or financial reward and if it was one’s whole life as the contestants said, was the singing itself the important part or was it the fame and money of an American Idol win?

Listening to her talk out loud to the people on the program created a perfect opportunity for me to consider my own dreams. I was working a day job where I was well paid for my time, but I was always dreaming of a writing life. During my time off I was generally brain tired and complained a lot of creative fatigue, but I was also wasting time on a variety of things like my American Idol nights. Most importantly, I was not getting any writing done other than scribbling story ideas on bits of paper or spinning out marketing ideas for my job.

Patrice’s comments made me think about whether it was writing or being read that was most important in creating the life I wanted as a writer and storyteller. I think deep down we know what our are dreams are even if it’s just a tiny seed of something we’ve tucked away thinking that we don’t have time for it now because we have to earn a living, feed the children, clean the house, walk the dog, and anything else you wish to put here ________.

While money and security are important so is the chance to live fully and I don’t believe that you need to give up one for the other. You do have to make time for it somewhere and that’s where most of us fall short. Some folks seem to be better at managing it all. John Grisham used get up and write for a few hours before work and I frequently read about published authors who write whole books with babies in their laps.

I will confess that I have not been as disciplined in the past as I could have been with regard to my writing. I tend to spend too much time on research and other distractions and I am just now understanding the need to commit to a firm schedule of uninterrupted writing time. I don’t think I could do it with a baby in my lap and at this stage of my life, I am glad I don’t have to, but I do need to stop doing things that keep me from having total focus on finishing the stories in my head.

I would write whether someone paid me or not and blogging has been a good starting point providing a balance for me between writing for myself and being read. That said, a bit of financial success from writing would be good to have and is certainly part of the motivation behind the need I feel to focus and deliver a larger finished product than what you see here.

I have found a level of satisfaction and a sense of security through blogging that I could not have imagined from being seen and heard here at GOTJ, but with a desire to finish some of my larger projects, I feel a need to spend more of my writing time on the big stuff which means cutting back here a bit or at least putting myself on a tighter schedule.

I appreciate more than you know everyone who stops by and puts ” money ” in the meter with kind your words and support and I’m not disappearing just readjusting my routine. It might be good to subscribe in the top right corner if you don’t want to miss me and I’ll drop into your inbox each week like a letter from a friend.

Sharing A Story – My Teary Moment With Kenny Loggins

In 1997, my life was in the middle of major changes when I saw that an old musical favorite of mine was coming to town to sign copies of a book that he had co-authored with his wife. I knew virtually nothing about this book, but what I did know was how at various points in my life his music had offered a soundtrack for the emotions and struggles that I had experienced particularly in my 20′s and early 30′s and something in me felt a need to go to his book signing.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long you already know that storytelling is so throughly a part of who I am that the idea that I might wait in line at a bookstore to have my newly purchased book autographed without mentioning the significance of his music and then quietly slip away was not even in the realm of possibility.

As I stepped up to meet him with a long line of people at my back, I considered how I might communicate the importance one song in particular had for me during my divorce from my daughter’s father and how I had listened to it over and over hanging on to the words like a life raft when I felt as if I might drown in all the sadness and disappointment I felt in myself and my failures.

Although very few of us are entirely responsible for the end of a marriage, for a while I believed that burden was all mine and I cried my way through years of pain that while unrelated in some ways surfaced during the final days and weeks of my marriage. I wanted more for a child of mine than two parents living separate lives shuttling back and forth between two houses and I struggled with keeping my own childhood sorrows from overshadowing my need to ensure that she felt safe and loved.

It was during this time while dressing for work one morning that I saw Kenny Loggins sing a song on a morning television show and listened as the words in his song mirrored my own experience. I remember stopping what I was doing at the time and just sitting as I watched … feeling for the first time that maybe things would be alright. The words in his song echoed exactly what I had been feeling and later I listened as he talked about the changes in his life and the joy that was now present.

His song had given me hope and a bit of solace back then and made me see that I was not alone in my sad experience and I as I stood there waiting I thought, I’m going to tell him. For a moment I considered, what if he thinks I’m silly, stupid, or God forbid, groupie-ish, but in the end I decided to share the importance hearing that particular song had for me during a time of crisis.

What you see in the photograph below is me telling him my story. I had given my camera to the woman behind me to take my picture with him and as I was talking I knelt down for a minute so my position shifted from what you see here. I told him of that morning only a few years earlier and how the message in his song had provided a starting place for healing and a form of forgiveness that I while I was still working on for myself, was slowly coming together after years of not trusting my own voice and my own sense that my feelings and dreams were just as valuable as those who wanted to be in relationship with me.

Kenny Loggins - Elizabeth Harper

As I told him my story, his eyes began to tear up … filling close to overflowing while we spoke and not because of the sadness in my story, but I believe now having read his book, because of the similarity. I think he was touched by my story because he had lived parts of it himself, different in ways to mine certainly, but the same at the core.

The woman who followed me in line brought my camera to me after having her book autographed and said, ” You made him cry … what did you say to him? ”  Without going into my whole story, I told her that I just shared an important moment in my life and how one song had made a difference. Having taken a risk to share something so special to me, I can’t tell you how pleased I was that it was received in the way I had intended.

There’s a release that comes in speaking your truth. It doesn’t need to be public or released in a song as has often been his way, but sharing your story can be a gift to someone who just might need the message in your own experience. Most of us do this everyday never really knowing the impact our words may have.

I’ve been speaking my truth here at GOTJ for the last 24 months. Today marks two years since I wrote my first blog post at giftsofthejourney.com where my first 82 posts still live. In February of 2009, I moved GOTJ to this WordPress account and during the last two years the combined total of 338 posts have garnered 76,853 page views and the kind and generous comments of many of you likely reading this today.

I want to take a minute to thank you for including my words and images in your daily life. Even though I don’t always have a chance to respond on the comments left here, please know that they are so appreciated and mean a great deal to me. Quite often as you’ve shared bits of your own story in response to something I’ve written I have been moved to tears as Kenny Loggins was that day and I am always grateful whenever my story connects in some useful way with your own.

I’m not sure what Kenny Loggins was writing in everyone else’s book, but he could not have picked better words for me personally than those two you see at the bottom of the page,” Trust Love.”  I frequently tell people that I could not have imagined that I would ever have the life I have now, but you all know my story if you’ve been reading GOTJ for long.

Trusting love is what brought me to this sweet life with John and the awareness that change had its own gifts to offer led me to create Gifts Of The Journey and a chance to share the experience with anyone interested in their own gifts and their own journey. My thanks to each of you who through Gifts of the Journey are now a part of mine.

John Winchurch & Elizabeth Harper - 2008

Can I Get A Witness

DSCF9540

One year ago today I began blogging at my original site for Gifts Of The Journey. I began my blog with a specific goal of keeping my family and friends updated on my travels last year while I was going back and forth across the ocean primarily between England and America. What began as a way to stay in touch with folks in the U.S. evolved very quickly into something more to me.

I’ve been telling stories and writing my whole life, but before I began posting at Gifts Of The Journey I rarely handed anything over for anyone to read or comment on not because I was overly concerned that the content might be no good, (okay..maybe a little) but more because it always felt a bit unfinished as if I’d left something undefined out of whatever I’d written. Blogging here on a regular basis has provided an unexpected gift in that I’ve learned how to write a piece quickly and let it go. There’s no time to over edit or over think things in the blogging world and I’ve grown to love that part of the process.

There’s certainly more to all this blogging than just an exercise in writing though and I want to touch on a couple of things I’ve thought about as I considered why I blog on this first anniversary of Gifts Of The Journey.

About eleven years I spent a weekend at a retreat with a friend and a group of women who’d gathered to share their stories. She’d spent time with this group before and I can’t remember why they let a stranger join them, but they made me feel welcomed without reservation. The experience of that weekend left a deep impression on me as woman after woman told different pieces their story. As an observer, I was frequently shocked by the intense emotion of some of these women who at times would move from tears as they talked to something that sounded like a kind of wailing release of grief. My caretaker self could barely sit still though the most painful parts and I found myself wanting to comfort and reassure. The group was not there however to perform any kind of therapy in fact I have no recollection of any real group leader or guide, but rather a collective a women just sitting and listening to anyone who felt compelled to share.  Some talked and some just listened offering nothing more than a hug and tissue when emotions overflowed.  My friend and I talked at length about later this especially after one woman in particular became so overwrought that her heartache made me want to weep along side her.

As I remember it, my friend explained that sometimes just being a witness to a person’s story is enough. Having someone sit and just listen as they told their stories was clearly powerful and appeared  in some cases to be healing for those who wanted to share.

I am reminded of this sometimes when I think about the blogging world and what this medium has done for me.  For instance, when I consider the pain and personal nature of this post one might wonder why I would publish it on the internet for the world to see instead of just typing it up for my sister and sending it off for her to read privately. There’s something very healing in sharing a story like Peanut Butter & Jelly. Could it be similar to those women who gathered to sit and witness the stories they felt compelled to share. Has the internet and the blogging community replaced those women sitting around the circle…I’m not sure, but I do know that I learn more about myself every time I remember and write about experiences like the one I had in the post, At Fifteen and sometimes I feel a need to share it.

There are times when a blog post can be a subject too happy not to share like the story told here or little messages of love like those here and here. Others have been sent out to help anyone who may have felt like this or needed to hear this.  Some of you have been reading my posts since I started writing here while others may have found me after I moved to this site. Either way there’s plenty to read as I was surprised to see when the number of posts from both sites totaled a 139 snippets of my past and present waiting to be found.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time these will not be new stories to you…you’ve already been a witness. Many of the 19,260 plus views have been silent witnesses choosing not to comment and that’s okay… just stopping by is truly appreciated. To those of you who left messages of hope and support after reading certain posts or who joined me in the celebrations of the last year…I want to say thank you to you all. You’ve been wonderful and so appreciated and I am thrilled to have formed new friendships through this now familiar medium.

Whether we’re telling our individual stories or listening to someone else’s we are a witness…of good times and bad, hope and heartbreak, joy and discovery, and sometimes when we’re lucky, healing.

With all that goes on in each of our lives sometimes a witness is just what we need.

I’m leaving you with a favorite song, Marc Cohn singing,  Let Me Be Your Witness and thanks again…for being mine.

Saying Hello – A Surprise From Paris!

 

Carolyn & Kim In Paris

Carolyn & Kim In Paris

Just imagine you’re finishing up your day…wrapping up a few things and taking a last look through your Google Reader to see if any of your favorites have posted lately to their blog. Last night I doing just that when I noticed that Carolyn from My Sydney Paris Life had a new post. Clicking on it to check her location, she and her partner Clive have been on the road and in the air for the last few weeks and it’s been quite interesting to share their journey so I was curious to see what fun they’d been up to. I was quickly intrigued to see the heading, ” To Elizabeth, from Paris.”  I didn’t automatically assume the Elizabeth was me as there are a lot of Elizabeth’s out there…even Elizabeth Harpers, but it was a message for me though and very sweet. If you go here, you can read about the details.

I’d like to add that one of the very best things I found through blogging is the friends I’ve made along the way. Blogging is like hunting for treasure without leaving your home and “meeting” people like Kim from Sassiland and Carolyn from My Sydney Paris Life enriches my life in many ways. I was really touched that they were thinking of me as they gathered together to meet in person. I hope next time I can be there too.