To Exhale Experience: An Offering To The World

To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.
~Walt Whitman

How often we forget that we are gifted the perfection of finite hours within our lifetime, neatly packaged moments filled with experience. They arrive to us as much as we go to them, a mingling of synthesizing interactions that define our lives.

What we decide to do with them is inevitably our choice.

I spend excessive amounts of time in my car, which is limping along these days while the busier world passes me by. But in the slower commute to here and there, I am gifted the chance to observe not only the behaviors of others, but my own reactions to them.

When I am too much with this world, my reactions are swift, emotional, and often filled with raw anger and frustration. I allow myself to be a participant to the bustling ways of my fellow commuters. In remaining “there,” though, I expend an extraordinary wasteful amount of energy. And if, by chance, they receive my reactions, it only escalates into an exhaustive battle about, well, nothing.

I avoid these clashes with listening to a new soundtrack I created called “VW Core.” It comprises the top 137 songs that define my life, a gentle balance that includes everything from solo piano pieces to a few jams from the Grateful Dead.

To put it simply, it brings me back to the experiences that have defined my life, that rise above petty rants with passers-by.

So, as summer approaches, I am reminded of the unspeakably perfect miracles held within each hour of our days. I will be on Chesapeake Bay, or taking walks in the woods with my children, or exploring the trails that cling to the shores of our nearby watershed. And, in absorbing these moments from these miraculous hours, I will then share them here and with others, exhaling the experiences that define my life.

I invite you to do the same in the coming months. See the beauty in the hours gifted to us, and share what you find with others. It is the very least we can do to offer the world such wondrous miracles experienced.

It’s Time To Rename This Thing Called Blogging

I’m not much into branding, or rebranding, as this case may be, but I think it’s time that I abandon the generic term of “blogging” and get a little more specific about what I am actually doing here on the internet.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that everybody has some kind of web presence now, and most people are on multiple social media platforms. In addition to a blog, they have Facebook profiles (yes, plural) and Instagram accounts (including the fake ones, or “finstas”); they also have accounts with Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other places that allow various forms of self-expression.

It’s all a little too much, if you ask me.

I’ve deleted most of the apps from my phone and have abandoned the majority of my sites in the last few months. So much of my time was being consumed by emotional responses to original posts or comments that had been left. Each “session” of checking my feeds left me exhausted.

So when I visited my blog this morning to see how much my writing has changed in the last few years, I felt ashamed, and even a little disgusted, that I had somehow strayed from being so open, so raw in my writing, with no particular audience in mind. I got swept up in branding, gaining some kind of following, and culling the best and finest words for posts that I had hoped would go “viral.”

What a horrible term to use for something we yearn for.

That’s why I want to change the name of what I am doing here, and I think it’s important for me to shout that out to the world, explain what I’m doing, and why.

I thought about naming this as my online journal, but it carries a weight with it that is just a notch or two above the horrible connotations associated with the term, “diary.” I’m 54 years old. I don’t need to put that wonder in the minds of readers that I’m chronicling what I had for lunch on any given day (don’t think for a moment that the irony is lost on me here; some food diarists are making six figures or more for writing about food).

I decided to do a quick search on Thesaurus.com for synonyms for journal. Here’s what they listed:

I was immediately happy to see that “blog” is not even listed. When I did a search for “Blog,” a much shorter list popped up:

I’m not trying to be difficult about this, but none of these synonyms really work for what I will be doing here. I’m seeing this space more as my “Leaves of Grass” that Walt Whitman first published in 1855 and then refined up to nine times in the last 37 years of his life. What I want to do here seems fairly aligned with Whitman’s attempt to capture his authentic philosophy of life and humanity as it evolved in his later years.

I want this space to be my “song of myself” from this point onward until I can write no more.

I don’t want to worry about offending or pleasing; what I will spill here is my song. What you do with it is really up to you.

So that’s what I think I will call it, at least for now. This is not a blog, or a journal. This is My Song, celebrating life and humanity as I see it.

The goal is to publish more frequently, more authentically, with content that is important to me, but accessible by you. Over the next few months, I’ll begin to re-design this site to reflect it as more of a songbook. I’m excited to see where this might go.

Focus on One Thing

I made some pretty bold moves this weekend, and I’m a lot better off this Sunday night than I was just 48 hours ago. It’s because of some advice that I received last week, on something totally unrelated to what I just discovered.

A little backstory here is necessary. Since the 2016 presidential election, I, like millions of others, have been pretty gripped with the polarizing politics here in the United States. It doesn’t matter what side you are on; it’s been emotionally draining for everyone. Relationships of all kinds have been strained, and I’ve acknowledged several times here and on social media how I have been overwhelmed by it all. It has affected my writing, my art, my love for music, my everything. I’ve been passionate about fighting for what I believe is right, and as a result, so much around me has suffered.

Fast forward to last week, when I turned in my article to my Catholic Review editor. After he had a chance to read it, we had a phone conference about the story. His bottom line: Focus on one thing, and then write about that one thing.

Let me repeat that:

Focus on one thing.

In the context of writing, it is a fairly rigid rule to keep it simple and be direct. It’s good advice that I’ve heard, and shared, over the years. My editor was spot on.

So fast forward five days, and here I am, still struggling with fluctuating polls, vitriolic tweets, hypocritical rants from all sides, and paralyzing gridlock in my newsfeed. I texted a friend of mine that I had lost my love for reading, for listening to music, for going on photo shoots. It was as if I had picked up a handful of crayons and had scribbled relentlessly through my thoughts, scrambling any coherent idea or passion that was possible.

No passion. No focus.

Then, for whatever reason, my editor’s words popped into my head: Focus on one thing.

It would be easy for me to apply this advice by ridding my life of the distractions that are keeping me from my art. Delete the politics, and the focus returns. That would certainly work, at least in the short term.

But when I meditated on my editor’s advice, I realized something a little deeper.

If I focus my energy on my own gifts, and how I can make a change in this world through deliberate acts, then I will no longer be paralyzed by the things I cannot control.

I immediately thought of my mentors, including my patron saint Francis de Sales, and Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Thich Nhat Hanh. While each of them might have been political, all of them were driven by their gifts of benevolence, peace, and charity. They looked for the common ground and not the things that divide us.

In other words, it’s not enough to delete the politics from our lives. I’m actually suggesting just the opposite. We need to, first and foremost, focus on the one thing that we are best at when it comes to making our communities healthy. Once we do that, everything else will take care of itself.

For me, these acts are done for – and through – God. And if I can offer contributions to my community that improve its overall health and wellness, then we are shielded from the things that are tearing others apart. In fact, it diminishes that contentious hold on us and begins to return us to a higher ground of respect toward all.

So as we navigate our energies through these turbulent times, focus on that one thing that you do well for others, and don’t worry so much about the things you can’t control. I believe that if more of us contribute kindness to others in our own communities, we will begin to feel a shift in our country’s larger energy for the values we believe are essential, not only for today but for our children’s future.

Our actions today are developing their focus for tomorrow; let’s make sure they focus on one thing: benevolence toward all.

 

Offering The Creative Collective To Artists, Writers, and Creatives

the-creative-collective-coverYesterday, out of a strong desire to create a “safe space” for creatives to share ideas, prompts, strategies, and inspirations, I created a new Facebook group called The Creative Collective.

Here, writers, artists, and all creatives now have the opportunity to share and be inspired to rediscover and strengthen their creativity. Nothing is being sold or pitched here; this is purely for imagination stimulation.

If you would like to join us on Facebook (it’s free and open to the public), go HERE.

Taking A Walk In The Woods

I’m sharing this on the trail here in Gunpowder Falls State Park, where I’ve decided to take a little walk in the woods to reconnect with the Earth. This is my first mobile post here at The Baltimore Writer, an experiment to bring you my experiences more immediately, perhaps a little raw and incomplete. 

It’s authentic, though, and that’s what I’m going for. An authentic presentation of my life as I am living it.

It’s cold out here, just above 30 degrees. I’m in the middle of an abandoned archery range. It’s like visiting a ghost-town zoo, where the remnants of the animals’ souls remain, a reminder of their once-abundant presence.


I feel like we came here, pushed our way through, cleared out the wildlife, and then left-moved on to the next space to conquer.

And all in a state park.

I know it’s not this way. I’m sure that this archery range has brought delight to a lot of people, young and old. But I know this isn’t the case in other natural parts of the county (and elsewhere).

I’d rather walk in the wild and take my chances than step on these state-park scrubbed paths, these sanitized stones void of the very life forms that it once provided for, these thriving creatures small and large, now nothing more than bullseye props for us to play the role of the man-in-the-wild.

Oh, irony, how you are too close, too often, these days.

Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Collection of Christmas Reflections

Sharing with all of my Baltimore Writer followers…

Thank you very much for your interest in Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Collection of Christmas Reflections, featuring “Gretchie’s Gifts,” my latest Christmas story in memory of my dear friend, Gretchen Trageser Smith.

This is a 121-page eBook (PDF format) that can be opened on any smartphone or tablet. It includes three short stories, a collection of essays, and a series of Christmas song reflections.

This is currently a FREE publication. I am asking for donations, however, and ALL proceeds received for this eBook between December 8 and December 18, 2016, will be donated to the PICU at Sinai Hospital to ensure that the children who will be spending their holidays (and beyond) in the Intensive Care Unit will have a little light during this time of year. Faith Smith, Gretchen’s sister, and I will personally deliver the donation to Sinai before Christmas.

To download your free copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy, click HERE.

To download your free copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy in ePUB format, click HERE.

To download your free copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy in MOBI format, click HERE.

To download your copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy in the KINDLE store for just $0.99, click HERE.

If you would like to make a donation before or after you download this publication, please do so below ($5, $10, or $25). If you are interested in donating a different amount, please contact me directly at rus.vanwestervelt@gmail.com.

*** Please share this link with your family and friends. We want to do everything we can to brighten their Christmas. To learn more about the Children’s Hospital at Sinai, go HERE.

REMEMBER: ALL donations made between December 8 and December 18 go directly to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, MD.

To make a donation, please go HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page.

THANK YOU! I will keep everyone updated on how much we have collected for the PICU at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

as always…………………rvw

 

In the Wake of Tragedy: Choose Peace Advocacy

Is there anything sensible left to write when it comes to the tragedies like the one we are facing right now in our lives? In the last week, Orlando has experienced three horrific events that have shocked us as a nation, sending ripples of grief worldwide.

While each of the events is tragic in its own right, the Pulse night club massacre where a gunman opened fire and killed 49 innocent individuals punches us so deeply for its senselessness.

“The shooting resulted in 50 deaths, including the gunman, who was killed by police after a three-hour standoff. Another 53 were injured. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and also the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks.”

Such attacks are not new in our country, and after each one, we refresh the wellness initiatives, employee assistance programs, and countless other proactive plans and strategies we have created to provide help and build strong community and organizational foundations.

And, I am certain that these programs have assisted many individuals in overcoming their anxieties and illnesses. Believing that these programs are ineffective or a waste of money is completely ridiculous. We must do more — not less — to help others, in all ways.

With that said, it is becoming very clear to me that, despite the work of many millions of caring individuals, we cannot close this ugly and once unimaginable door that has been opened. It is horrific, it is unconscionable, and it is a part of our existence that we cannot deny.

The vast majority of people who have committed such atrocious acts as the Orlando massacre are not those individuals who were denied services, who fell through the cracks, or who were just looking for a little attention. Something went wrong internally, and they shifted their focus to the evil residing in that Dark Place.

Perhaps Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened that door on April 20, 1999, when they murdered 12 students, one teacher, and injured an additional two dozen others at Columbine High School. Since then, more than 50 massacres have happened in the United States, with 27 of them occurring since 2007. These are not isolated, retaliative attacks against one or two individuals; these are full-blown assaults against innocent individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, or gender; although the Orlando massacre occurred at a gay nightclub, it is still uncertain how sexual orientation might have played into the gunman’s decision of where to carry out the attack. As new information is learned, there is a speculation about the gunman’s own sexual orientation.

An infinite number of security systems, wellness programs, and lines of love are not going to close this door. They help tremendously, and we need to continue to support them unconditionally.

But completely close the door on such horrors? Impossible.

Goucher Easter 011This is why we need to shift our energy, our thinking, our focus.

Friends on social media have been pleading the case for love, not war. Hope, not hate. Life, not death. Their words have a powerful impact on me and, I hope, many others. Yet, with the presidential campaign using this massacre as a means of condemning candidates, we are left with a less unified reaction. We are quick to blame instead of being quick to love.

Instead of blaming others, though, I think we need to be aggressive in our activism for peace.

So, in addition to the thoughts and prayers, in addition to living the lifestyles of gentle peace, I believe we must now live our lives with aggressive intent to be peace activists, and recognize the value in having a genuine awareness of the beauty that not only surrounds us, but absolutely bursts from within us. We need to harness that energy and use it purposefully, mindfully, and with serious intent.

We need to see that, despite these horrors that are now a part of our world, we possess an infinitely greater power to change lives for the better, starting with our very own. It takes action, though, to be engaged in the solution, to be cognizant of those around us who are in need or who are hurting, to reach out in ways that lead to solutions.

The gunman who slaughtered 49 people in Orlando talked about his intentions. He wrote about them. He was investigated twice by the FBI for reasons that placed him on a terror watch list. Even on a personal level, there were opportunities for individuals to say something, to add new information to existing files.

These three simple rules to living a purposeful life with an aggressive advocacy for peace can save lives.

First, you need to find the Prism of Life in every moment. You need to recognize and embrace life’s beauty. Even in the darkest of personal times, beauty still surrounds us. See it and absorb it. Let the prism of life radiate through you, not around you.

Second, you must believe in your power to radiate an infectious, inspiring, and unconditional love. Your energy, limitless in abundance, can and will change lives of the people you meet, interact with, and share a space. We do not need to know when we change lives, or even the specific actions that we have done that have been effective; we just need to know that our actions of peace and love make a profound difference in our communities, both virtual and real.

Third, you need to know, with your entire being, that all we really need is love — to feel, to give, to live. You need to understand that we are not alone in our bouts of confusion, anger, sadness, and frustration. These emotions are just as real and genuine as joy, happiness, and calm. They are allowed to occupy our minds, our hearts, and our souls just as freely. In understanding that these emotions and feelings are real among the millions of Americans and individuals throughout the world, we begin see people in a different light. We begin to approach our relationships with empathy and understanding, with compassion and love, with action and with support.

Yes. There are differences in belief systems that drive some individuals to carry out horrific acts. But these individuals share their thoughts, they throw signals of intent, they talk, write, and publish their plans. If we, with a heightened sense of peace and love through advocacy and activism, can report such signals and provide support for the individuals in need, then we are contributing to more peaceful communities and diminishing the chances of such horrific acts from ever taking place.

Love. Act. Serve. We cannot wait for the next tragedy to advocate for peace. The days are long gone for us to talk about how bad it might get. We are already there.