Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Inspiration

Traffic and Other Exhausting Problems with Living

No doubt, traffic is the worst thing about living in the Northeast, and the traffic in northeastern cities is unfathomable. To make matters worse, almost all of the city streets are one-way. When I am driving in the city, I am constantly circling the blocks, trying to find an arrow pointed in the direction that I want to go, and at least once per day, I make a mistake and pull into an alley or begin to edge down the wrong passage.

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When I finally get on the right street, I have to dodge the jaywalkers and then suddenly, without warning, some kook will stop and park–right in the middle of the street, and I am the car right behind him. Working myself out of that kind of buttonhole is definitely a challenge, and I have discovered that my life is filled with traffic, and I am continuously faced with the challenge of having to sort out my next best move.

Not long after I moved to the North, I accidentally got into the lines of traffic that were headed into the Holland Tunnel, and of course, that traffic only goes one way. I had driven to North Jersey to take my son to a camp, and I thought that I was headed back to South Jersey. I began to notice that the cars were moving slower and were edging closer and closer toward me. They had gotten uncomfortably close, and I realized that this was not the team huddle at the beginning of the football game. I sensed danger. I had never driven in New York City, and at that time, I hadn’t even driven much in Philadelphia. City traffic scared me to death. I reached a toll booth, and I am sure that fear was scrawled across my face and I timidly asked the lady at the booth, “Is this the way to Atlantic City?”

“Oh, No, Honey,” she chortled “This is the Holland Tunnel. You’re heading into New York City.”

I nearly cried. “Please, can you do anything to get me out of here?”

That saintly lady literally stopped the traffic and got me turned around. Just before I darted away, I explained, “I’m from Mississippi. We have cows, not cars,” and she laughed. The entire freeway rang with her laughter.

That was a close call, and unfortunately, I often find myself tangled in the webs of my own mistakes. The upside of this scenario, however, is that until now [knock on wood], I have always managed to survive. All of my life, I have heard that when cats fall, they always land on their feet. I never tested the theory, but I wonder if it is true, and I wonder whether this tidbit about cats is part of understanding a greater truth about life. Regardless of how wildly I spin through my own universe–regardless of how many times I flip and flail through the air–and regardless of how far I manage to fall, I always seem to land on my feet, too. When I finally learned to believe that things in life do tend to work out, I became calmer in simply living.

Worry is like a rocking chair. It requires a lot of work, and it gets you nowhere.

At times in my life, I have been a worrier. In fact, I still find myself being anxious too much of the time, but I am getting better. In my observation, worriers are afraid. While some people mask their emotions, I believe that beneath a control freak’s facade, there often lies a fear that at any moment, his entire world is going to implode.

Among other things, control freaks are perfectionists and are afraid of making mistakes, and because of that, they are terrified at the prospect of loosening the reins with which they control everything about themselves, including the people that surround them, and they tend to limit the amount of risks that they take.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Years ago, I was more of a perfectionist and I was more concerned with control than I am now. Controlling is an exhausting lifestyle.  In fact, mere survival can be fatiguing.  At times, I become exhausted by the energy it takes to simply persevere. I’m not fond of the idea of shooting myself or slicing my wrists and slowly bleeding out, but there have been times that I have thought that just maybe it would be nice if I could go to sleep peacefully one night and simply not re-awaken. But I always come back to the realization that living–even if it is only surviving–is a good thing.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” – Agatha Christie

The good news is that we don’t have to be perfect. Absolute control is not necessary. It is not even good. A little chaos is actually a better thing than absolute control. Because of my creative nature, I have never been completely in control. Einstein makes me feel better about my being chaotic.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? ” – Einstein

The control freak would look down upon the creative’s chaos, thinking that the chaotic is weaker than he, the one in control. In reality, it is the creative [his chaos and all] who should question those who cannot function without absolute order. I wonder about the strength of a person who can only function in limited, controlled environments.

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

While the orderly are excellent at attending to facts in their limited constructs, the creatives are the ones who invent those constructs. Without the inventiveness of the chaotic creative, the orderly businessman would have nothing to sell.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein

Inventing is a chaotic business.

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” ― Mary Shelley

And inventing requires a process of free-fall during which ideas spin and twist and contort, and sometimes, the ideas finally land on their feet. Yet, sometimes, they do not. Hear me: that is ok. It is ok that some of our ideas work and that others do not. Fear of making mistakes causes a painter to quit painting and it causes writer’s block. The victor is the person who can re-examine what he has done, toss some things away, and save the better stuff to polish into a pearl. This is an artist’s life and it is a writer’s life. Embrace the challenge. Face the traffic within your own life, and let yourself flow.

©Jacki Kellum May 25, 2017

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that is where I renew my springs that never dry up.” Pearl S. Buck

 

Survive

The Short Story Leaf by Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien – about Another Little Man Who Makes A Journey & Laughs – The Mountains Rang with It!

About 45 years ago, I read Leaf by Niggle, a short story that was written by J.R.R. Tolkien. In many ways, I identified with the story, and over the years, I have thought about it often. Many times, I have quoted the last line of the story, “They both laughed. Laughed–the Mountains Rang with It!”

Read the story Leaf by Niggle Here

It has been years since I have laughed so completely and so deeply that I have felt that nature itself was laughing with me. I call that kind of laughter “a belly laugh,” and I rarely belly laugh now. But I love it when I catch myself chuckling.

I began thinking about the times that I have laughed myself into tears and I believe that when that has happened before, I was always with someone else.  In short, my best laughs have been group laughs–rather like group hugs–they are something that requires someone else.

Laughter is contagious. I find many things to be humorous, and I chuckle and smile quite often. But chuckling is not a deep laugh. When I am with someone else and we both see something funny, we may begin with a chuckle and then we may begin responding to each other’s responses. I laugh harder because the other person laughs harder, and the cycle begins. We might ultimately wipe the tears of laughter from the corners of our eyes, and we will feel better.

As I said, I don’t know that I have ever experienced that kind of deep laughter when I am alone. Even so, when I am by myself, I continue to chuckle and to smile. Sometimes my smiling is alive and tingly, and it circles through my body and it warms my very being. When that happens, I am very close to Niggle’s state, when he sat amidst the hills and he felt that the mountains laughed with him. I aspire toward that kind of happiness–a peaceful happiness when I know that I am laughing with my world–and that the world and I are tingling with aliveness.  On my very good days, I find myself chuckling until my entire body smiles, and on those days, I know that I am fine.

©Jacki Kellum April 19, 2017

 

Chuckle

What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice to Deceive OURSELVES

Next week, I’ll be 67-years-old, and as I look back across the string of events that have been woven together to create my life, I wish that I could see a clear chain of well-considered decisions that were based on sound, unflawed reasoning. Unfortunately, however, denial has a tendency to enter the equation. I find myself wondering if much of what I have done was based on the partial or flawed bits of information that I allowed to pose as truths. I wonder how much I have deceived myself.

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Yesterday, I watched the Denzel Washington movie Out of Time, and I literally cringed as I watched one of my favorite actors wade through the swarm of problems that he created while deceiving himself, and I thought, for about the millionth time, about how this swarming nature of problems is true of life.

What a dangerous web we weave when first we practice to deceive ourselves

Many of our problems evolve because we assume that everything that we think is true. It is not. We often think things that are not at all true. That is the nature of Denial, and once we buy into Denial, our minds become gnarled circuit boards. Maybe when I was first born, my brain’s wires were orderly,  but I could not have been very old when things that should not have happened did happen to me or when I simply did things that I should not have done. I have compounded the effects of the unfortunate events of my own life by making flawed decisions–primarily as efforts to compensate for the things that should never have happened. Like the tangling web, my internal wires seem to have gotten more and more tangled.

methinks

I definitely think too much, and all of that thinking muddles things even more; but my writing helps me to manage some of the knotting, but writing does not help the twisted web of problems that have arisen outside of my mind. I am thinking about family problems now. I am not sure when my family became such a dismal affair. I am quite sure that my family’s kiss of death lay somewhere within my nasty divorce. Like a bomb, atoms separated during my divorce, and time has not healed any of the wounds inflicted during that  time. To the contrary, like Denzel Washington’s problems in his movie Out of Time, my family’s problems have compounded and swarmed since my divorce, and they have taken on a life of their own. Like Humpty Dumpty, we are broken, and I doubt that all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can glue my family back together again. Yet, I never completely give up. I leave my porch light on and my key under the mat.

©March 6, 2017

Swarm

My House Is My Hideout, My Refuge, & My Home

When I am attacked by a case of social anxiety, nothing spells relief like H-O-M-E–not house–but home. The place where I currently dwell isn’t fancy. In fact, in many ways, it is downright crude; but my home is my haven–a shelter from life out there, a harbor from the arduous task of survival. It might seem that any 4 walls and a roof could serve that purpose–could offer a kind of refuge or a closet where I could hide from the world. Yet, while my house is far from adequate and while it lacks many of the creature comforts that I would enjoy, the things that make this space my home are far more complicated than that. Following is a list of some of the things and places that have transformed my house into my home:

  1.  My Garden

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Both working and sitting in my garden are probably the activities that most keep me sane. I have written blog posts in which I have tried to catalog all of the reasons that my garden is vital to me.  For exmple, there are health benefits in my being able to root around in the dirt and become part of what nature, plants, and seeds can produce.  I have built a waterfall, and the sounds that it makes are soothing to me and watching the cascading water is mesmerizing. I also have bird feeders and bird baths.  Being able to sit, just feet away from my feeding and bathing birds is an invaluable treat for me.  While not exactly part of my house, my garden is no doubt one of the areas of my home that I consider to be most important.

2.  My Sunroom

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Sunroom1

A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.  – May Sarton –

During the spring, summer, and fall, I spend most of my waking hours outside in my garden. My sunroom is a place where things can continue to grow and bloom even when things outside are not, but  I actually built my sunroom to serve as my inside link to what I have created outside.

In my sunroom, there is a great big and soft loveseat-like chair that is situated just in front of a wall of glass that opens to my side garden, where I have planted a a bit of what I consider to be nature’s best.  My birdfeeder and bird bath are in view from this chair, and I can also see my cherub statue from there.  My sunroom has become the place that I sit, especially during winter, when I need to lavish myself with the healing balm and blessings of what lies outside.  When it snows, I especially love to sit in my sunroom, toasting by my fireplace, watching the world, as nature transforms her into a white and silent maiden.

Some days, after working in my garden, I spread a bit of bird food, go inside and pour myself a glass of wine.  Afterward, I come into my sunroom and sink into my sunroom chair, which literally seems to wrap itself around me.  Then I begin peering through the glass at nature as it unfolds on the living, big screen in front of me.  I think to myself that life just doesn’t get much better than this.  My sunroom is literally the window to my soul.

3.  My Fireplaces and Firepits

woodstove

“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If youre a pretender come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!

– Shel Silverstein –

My attraction to burning logs is complex.  In short, nothing transports me more than the smell of a wood fire.  I currently live in a suburb that has very strict laws against torching things outside, but before I moved here, one of the things that I most loved about fall was the smell of burning leaves; and when I was a child, I spent my summers at camp, where night time and campfires became absolutely mystical to me.  My fireplaces and my outside firepits are the ways that I keep that part of myself alive.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. – Diane Ackerman

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4.  My Studio

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During the winter, which is normally both brutal and long in New Jersey, I spend most of my active hours in my studio.  Every season but winter, I create outside; but when it gets cold and ground freezes, my studio becomes my garden.  It is the place that I myself go to grow–to listen to my own spirit and to follow its call.

Although I could paint and create in virtually any room of my house, having a designated studio makes the process easier.  If every time I wanted to create, I had to wag out my art supplies and then put them back up again, I simply would never paint again.  That being said, my studio is more than a set of handy shelves and other storage devices.  It is the cornerstone of much that makes me who I am.  Even when I am not painting, my studio is a shrine that reminds me that there is a secret and magical place within myself and that I have a package, waiting to be opened.

Being an artist is a way of Being–of Becoming Aware–of Increasing from Within–of Wondering–and of Inventing because of that Wonder.  – Jacki Kellum –

5.  My Bed

MBR

If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.  – Gaston Bachelard

While I have a lovely sunroom and a terrific studio, the place that I do most of my recharging and creating is actually my bed.  Whereas my home is my haven, and my garden is my retreat, and my sunroom is my soul, and my studio is my shrine, my bed is a cornucopia of all of those things, in one integral place.

I am a very active person, but I am probably more mental.  I think and rethink everything that I do and then I research it on my laptop, chart it, notate it, graph it, plan it, and rethink it some more.  95% of the mental part of myself happens while I am propped up on the feather pillows atop my bed, which is truly a spot that transforms my house into my home.

You can never go home again. – Thomas Wolfe

When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood. – Sam Ewing

Fortunately,  our true homes are not merely the places where we lived with our parents.  Like turtles, we carry our homes with us–inside ourselves.  Our homes are actually the places where and when we are most rooted and most grounded.  During the better parts of our childhoods, most of us did experience a sense of home; and in my opinion, the only way that we can become happy adults is to find ways to reesablish that same essence again and again.

There are things that we can do to our houses that help us to recreate our senses of home.   As I look back, I believe that my true mission in life has been that of finding ways to make myself at home–wherever I happen to live.  I am currently residing in at least the 10th house since my childhood, and I have been fortunate in that I have learned to find ways to make each of those houses my home.  It is the only way that I know to actually live.

[Note: I first wrote this two years ago, and I hate to admit that during this past summer, I did not tend to and care for my garden, and I have allowed my sunroom to become cluttered with an never-ending remodeling project, and my spirit has suffered. My house is still my hideout. When I return home from a day of working or running errands, I still sigh in relief that I have finally been allowed to get home again, but I realize that without my gardening and my sunroom and my fireplace, my house is not my sanctuary. I vow to do better this summer and get back into my garden and back into my home.]

©Jacki Kellum February 21, 2017

Hideout

Addicted to Staying Busy – There’s A Fine Line Between Living Life Fully & Racing Through It in a Blur

I am quite sure that I am addicted to staying too busy. Are you?

I must hate being bored. I certainly never allow myself to become so. For as long as I can remember, I have had a line of hobbies and tasks waiting for me to accomplish, and I dart into each task with the daring and tenacity of the Roadrunner. I amaze people. I even amaze myself. But is all of this staying busy and accomplishing and achieving a desirable thing? Probably not.

I found a great article in Psychology Today, and it talks about people like me–people who do too much. The author, Lissa Rankin M.D, admits that when she has too much time on her hands, she becomes too aware of unpleasant things:

Like my flailing marriage.

Or the fact that I feel shame around how I’m missing out on some of Siena’s sweetest childhood moments because my job requires travel.

Or how uncomfortable I am with feelings of boredom.

Or how afraid I am of being ordinary.

Or how I tend to feel unworthy and unlovable unless I’m overachieving.

Or the fact that my mother isn’t getting any younger and I don’t get to see her very often, and I wonder if I’m unconsciously pulling away from her because I’m terrified of losing her one day so I’m practicing what Brené would call “dress-rehearsing disaster.”

Or how uncomfortable I am with realizing that, although a lot of people online care about what I have to say, I’m not very good at cultivating and sustaining lasting relationships with real people who really know me and love me.

Or how restless I feel when I’m not making myself feel more worthy by doing something to help others.

Or how lonely I often feel, even when I’m surrounded by a crowd of people.

See More Here

Wow! I certainly see myself in those words.  Many years ago, the book I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can was published. I didn’t read the book–I was too busy “dancing as fast as I could,” but the title of the book has haunted me. Amazon says the following about Dancing As Fast As I Can:

Barbara Gordon’s groundbreaking memoir tells the extraordinary story of a woman who has it all, or thinks she does-a career as an Emmy-award-winning documentary producer, a man she loves, a world of friends, and a beautiful apartment in Manhattan. But beneath the façade, Barbara’s life is spinning out of control. Amazon Here

Several times lately, I have observed to other people that at one time, I truly thought that I knew quite a lot and that I had a lot of answers, but only in the past year or so, I realize that I have very few answers and that I have many more questions than answers. I wish that I could write a Self-Help article about how to cure the problem of staying too busy, but I cannot. I do recognize that I have that problem, and in many ways, I am relieved by that realization. Like many other issues, Busyness is an addiction, and admitting that we have an addiction is the first and enormous step forward. Here’s to finding the courage to walk [and not race] the rest of the way.

©Jacki Kellum February 19, 2017

 

Blur

The Importance of Learning to Wait

Two years ago, I had a blue kitchen. It was not a navy blue kitchen. I could have lived with that. My kitchen was a neutral color of blue that had no personality at all. In all of my years, I have never seen another kitchen that was the color of my dated and lackluster kitchen. Even the floor was blue. It was covered with a cheap blue vinyl, and the entire room screamed, “I was never fashionable.”

 

A few years ago, I tried to sell my house, and as soon as the potential buyers saw my kitchen floor, they turned around and walked back out of the house. Some of the cabinets had begun falling apart, and I decided that something had to be done about my kitchen. I knew that until I changed things, I would never sell my house, and since I had no money, I decided to fix the problem myself.

To disassemble the cabinets, I advertised on Craigslist that anyone who could take them down and cart them away could have them. I knew that I wanted stainless steel appliances, and I practically gave away my white appliances, too. Then, with a hammer clenched in my hand, I attacked the wall that stood between my tiny kitchen and my tiny dining room, and I myself removed that sucker. Now, I had one big room that would one day become a wonderful kitchen, but I didn’t have the resources to finish the job, so I waited. For over a year, my kitchen consisted of a crock pot, and electric skillet, and an old and dying refrigerator. Then, that refrigerator expired, and I bought my first new kitchen appliance–a beautiful stainless steel refrigerator.

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During my entire life, I have never lived in a newly built house; therefore, every time that I have moved into a house, a used refrigerator came with the used home. Although I have found it necessary to replace my fridges before, this was the first time that I have actually gone to the store and bought a new one. I was  66-years-old, and for the first time in my life, I had a brand new refrigerator–a stainless steel refrigerator–and one that had no scratches or dents.

As I stood and admired my new fridge and the beginning of my new kitchen, I considered how differently that I might have viewed the buying of a new refrigerator if I had been privy to tons of new appliances before now–and if during my lifetime, I had never actually wanted anything. Had that been the case, I would probably have been irritated by the minor hassle that replacing an old, dead appliance had caused and when I watched my new refrigerator rolling through my door, I would have experienced very little pleasure at all. I would have thought, “Easy come, easy go, It’s just a new appliance. It’s no big deal.” But that was not the way that the scenario plalyed out.

Refrigerator4

For the first time in my life, I had a brand new and shiny refrigerator, and I was thrilled.

This will sound odd, but I am happy that I don’t have everything that I want. I am even happy that I don’t have everything that I need, and I am happy that I have learned how to wait. The wanting and the waiting make me more appreciative when I actually receive.

For what I have received may the Lord make me truly thankful. And more truly for what I have not received. – Storm Jameson

Things could be quite different for me now that I am older and retired. I could have NOTHING left to want and there could be Nothing that would make my day. Thank goodness, that is not the case for me. It doesn’t take much at all to turn my life into a party.

©Jacki Kellum October 18, 2016

Waiting

Laura Ingalls Wilder on Autumn – Let’s Journal the Changes of the Season – Daily Notebook Challenge

“The days were growing shorter and the nights were cooler. One night Jack Frost passed by, and in the morning there were bright colors here and there among the green leaves of the Big Woods. Then all the leaves stopped being green. They were yellow and scarlet and crimson and golden and brown.

“Along the rail fence the sumac held up its dark red cones of berries above bright flame-colored leaves. Acorns were falling from the oaks, and Laura and Mary made little acorn cups and saucers for the playhouses. Walnuts and hickory nuts were dropping to the ground in the Big Woods, and squirrels were scampering busily everywhere, gathering their winter’s store of nuts and hiding them away in hollow trees.”  Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, p. 215.

_________________________________________________________________________

Image result for little house in the big woodsI am teaching a class about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and her books, and this past Thursday, my class discussed Wilder’s first book Little House in the Big Woods. I have discovered that Wilder has a cult following of older women. As children, they read Wilder’s stories and the books made a lasting impression on them. I did not read the Little House books as a child, and I must admit that until I studied them, I had sold them short.

Although the Little House books were published for children, they were originally written as a type of memoir for adults. The writing is simple, but it is not childish, and I have discovered that Wilder’s use of description is worthy of study. I admit that I have read more elaborate descriptive writing in other books, but there is something about Wilder’s simplicity that is touching.

Most of the United States are about to enter the season of autumn. During the next few weeks, most of the people in America will watch nature as she kaleidoscopically shifts from color to color to color. Trees that are currently bulbous and full will begin to drop their leaves and within a month, crooked and stark limbs will be scrawled across the sky.

I am a gardener, and yesterday, I did some things that I do in fall. I transplanted some roses and I repaired my rose trellis. Today, it is raining at my house. A slow and steady rain has been peppering my roof for about 24 hours. I suspect that as soon as the rain moves away, the temperatures will drop, and nature will begin to shift.  Before the day is out, I am going to buy myself a notebook that will fit into my bag. I have made a commitment to carry it with me everywhere I go and to spend about ten minutes a day looking at my world. Then, in just a few, basic words, I am going to record what is before my eyes.

I may or may not elaborate on my initial few words later, but my challenge for myself is to do one thing each day: look carefully around myself for ten minutes and record what I see. Why don’t you take the daily notebook challenge, too?

The Writer’s Notebook Daily Challenge:

Go outside, look carefully for ten minutes, and in a few words, record what you see.

I have several reasons for setting  time and word limits.

  1. All of us are busy and when our notebook exercises are short, we will be more inclined to follow through with them. 
  2. As writers, we sometimes engage in wordplay that becomes too mental and abstract. I believe that an exercise that requires close observation and a few honest words about what we actually see, smell, hear, touch, etc., is a good way to pull us back into writing that is more immediate and concrete. 

©Jacki Kellum October 9, 2016

Careful

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