Writing into the Light…

Finding my way with words…


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Tails to Read©

Carol Craley©

Today I am pleased to welcome guest blogger, SandDancer’s The Kiss O’Grace…

I am a therapy dog.  People call me Gracie or Grace or Gracie the Reading Dog or Sweet Pea.  When the weather starts getting warm it’s time for my annual physical and shots, then I make a trip to visit Saint Kathy, my groomer, for my “summer do.”  It’s time to start my summer job!

I have a summer job in a small library in Ocean Park, Maine.  I take on my identity of “Gracie the Reading Dog.”  My Mom and I got the idea 5 years ago to start a new reading program at the Library (where she was working for the summer).  Ocean Park is a Chautauqua (more about that in a future blog)  on the ocean in southern Maine.  Lots of people come here for a beach vacation.  Mom was a teacher and a school administrator.  She says “once a teacher, always a teacher.”

Mom thinks kids should read books over the summer so that they don’t lose important skills they have developed in school.  She also says it should be fun reading, not something that feels like a punishment.  Mom says it is especially important for struggling readers to be encouraged, gently guided and rewarded for their efforts.  It is also important that they feel safe when they are reading and learning to read.  That will affect their definition of themselves as readers.  That’s where I come in…

As a therapy dog  I went to school to learn how to use what I do best (relate to people) while harnessing my exuberant enthusiasm for life and putting it to good use.  I have visited nursing homes, worked with Mom when she worked with developmentally disabled adults, I have visited people with brain injuries in a rehab center and then I became a reading dog.  I do have to say, I am one awesome therapy dog!!  Being an attentive golden retriever I love listening to a good tail tale.  I even have a library of my own full of books about dogs, and 2 books about psycho kitties (have to keep up the belief that canines are the dominant breed).

Carol Craley©

Some boys and girls read really well.  They will even read me a chapter from a chapter book!  The problem with that is I never get to hear the end of the story.  Some boys and girls have to work hard when they read.  It is not easy for them.  Many of them are shy and start out their stories with a soft little voice I can hardly hear.  Then, by the time they finish the story they are reading loud and really excited about the story!  They always make me feel good because I know they trust me.  I give them extra special hugs and kisses with their Tails to Read© bookmark.  Those boys and girls often have mean kids at school who laugh or make rude noises when they are slow at reading or make a mistake.  Sometimes their adults expect too much or are embarrassed because they are not quick readers.  I have as much time as they need and special ways to show I  enjoy their company, accept them as they are and love their stories..

Sometimes a boy or girl is a good reader, but has a hard time with people.  Sometimes they are so afraid of people that they hardly ever talk.  I help them also.  It’s not scary reading to someone with reddish fur, big brown eyes, a big smile and a giant heart that loves everyone.  No one knows how smart they are when they are afraid to talk to people.  It makes their mothers cry when they hear them read to me.

Sometimes I get really little boys and girls to “read” to me.  Their parents want them to be comfortable around dogs and really don’t know how to read yet.  I help them learn how to approach a dog, how to be gentle and treat them with respect.  In return, they bring picture books and create a story to go with it.  Those are great stories told with gusto!!

My Mom’s favorite question when a woman brought her son to read to me was to ask if I understood books read in French.  They were from Quebec and French is their first language.  My Mom stood up straight and proudly announced that I was a multi-lingual dog when it came to stories, that I understood tails tales told in all languages!  I am one smart golden, if I do say so myself!

Being a reading dog, and therapy dog is very important work.  I help kids feel confident about their reading and about reading books.  I help them enjoy their vacation even though their dogs weren’t able to come on vacation with them.  I help them know that dogs can be their friends and be good listeners.  I offer two good ears, soft fur, kisses and let them know that each of them are unique and special.  Mom always tells me in the car on the way home that I make a lot of kids and adults very happy.  I’m glad I am a therapy dog.  The people let me know that I have a special job and a special gift to give to others.  That makes me one happy, but tired, puppy!!!

Carol Craley©


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Magical Places, Part I

One of the spiritual highlights of my life evolved from a kismet moment.  While travelling through Ireland I walked into the bookstore in a small town where we were staying.  Piled on a table were autographed copies of a book written by an Irish author and scholar who had made a book appearance the day before.  The book had to do with Celtic spirituality, an interest of mine, and was autographed by a local Irish author…done deal ~ a unique memento of my trip.

The book was anam cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World by John O’Donohue.  My life was forever changed by the book and the connection to John O’Donohue.  The term anam cara is Gaelic meaning “soul friend.”  These are the people with whom we share a sacred connection.

O’Donohue talks about our connection to the landscape.  He writes, “Even in the ruins long since vacated, are the souls of those who had once lived there, still had a particular affinity and attachment to this place.  The life and passion of a person leaves an imprint on the ether of a place.  Love does not remain within the heart; it flows out to build secret tabernacles in the landscape.”

Throughout my life I have come upon geographic areas for the first time and felt a sense of belonging immediately upon placing my foot on the earth.  There is a sense of deja vu, of meeting an old friend after many years apart.  Yet, oddly, it is a connection to a place I have never been. There is a profoundly deep connection that has nothing to do with current residents, fun things to do, gastronomical delights or even beautiful landscape (which coincidentally is usually found).  The connection is rooted deep within the sand, soil and clay.  It rises from the ocean or lake.  It is the connection to the soul(s) of the land.

This sense of belonging explains our connection to the land where deeply held religious beliefs and events have taken place.  It is the reason for religious pilgrimages.  Unfortunately, it is also the reason for religious wars over control of land that continues for centuries.  Sometimes the connection is more subtle.

I later met John O’Donohue at Omega Institute and spent 3 days in a workshop with him centered on the concept of anam cara and Celtic Spirituality.  We later met again at a poetry reading he gave at NYU.  Unfortunately, John O’Donohue left this life in January 2008, far too soon.

The sense of place that John writes about leads me to question, Why do we choose the places we visit?  Are we looking for a spiritual connection to the land?  Are we looking for excitement and adventure?  Are we content to find a life style and pace in a perfect climate?  Are we looking to retrace historic places and events that have captured our imaginations?  Or, do we plan our travels to give our lives a mixture of all of those situations?

Prior to my move to Maine I vacationed here for 30 years.  It was a place I returned to every summer.  If a vacation was for new adventure, it was always in addition to a trip to Maine.  I was never able to return to my teaching/administrative position until I had breathed some Maine air.  Now I get the opportunity daily.

Maine for me is my spiritual center.  It is a culture and pace of life that suits who I am and where I am in my life.  Aspects of Maine  are a constant stable force in an ever changing life and world.  It is a place that keeps me grounded and connected to my core beliefs.  There needs to be a physical place of connection to that which we value and fear is slipping away from the world at large.  These are our magical places.

Periodically over the next few months I will blog about some of my “magical places.”  Please come along.  Please also post comments about your magical places and why you travel where you travel.

John O’Donohue had a wonderful lyrical voice.  I am grateful that the sound of that voice is deeply imprinted in my brain.  I can pick up one of his books or poems and hear it in his voice.  That is a blessing in itself.  If you would like to hear John talk about his beloved Burren in the west of Ireland, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtEL7u1BnTQ.

For more information about John O’Donohue and his writings, http://www.johnodonohue.com.


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Me’s Pop

  He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.                  ~Clarence Budington Kelland

Throughout my life it was a surprise to me when I would meet girls/women who were so deeply bonded with their mothers.  They always made me feel separate, that there was a “female club” of which I was not a member.  I came to realize the difference between them and me was that I was part of another “club” ~ a group of women who were “Father’s Daughters.”

In the psyche of familial evolution, Father’s Daughters see the world in terms of ideologies more historically linked to men.  Fathers raised their daughters to be strong, capable and independent people.  They taught them that the world is full of infinite possibilities and that they were entitled to partake of any of those possibilities.  In the 21st century, (following an evolving definition of the role of women in the family, society and the world) the group known as “Father’s Daughters,” is becoming a historical marker in the sociological evolution of society.

As far back into childhood as I can remember, I wanted to model my life after my father.  He was a quiet man, but as Kelland states in the above quote, he didn’t need to speak to teach.

The top 10 Reason’s he improved my life:

  1. “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
  2. In the time before the Civil Rights movement and the term “racial equality” was a common part of vocabulary, his best friend was of a different race, he was the only “white brother” in his Christian Brotherhood Breakfast group and he spoke out against injustice at a time when it wasn’t acceptable to do so
  3. He exhibited and honored the integrity of all peoples
  4. He believed that education must include the “soft” subjects: art, music, great writing, philosophy, psychology, and to use “mistakes” as lessons
  5. He believed that success in work (be it professional, personal or recreational) is to “do your homework” and give your all to being the best you can be at every stage of development
  6. He modeled the Shaker phrase, “Hands to Work, Hearts to God”
  7. He was creative, believing that doing only what was expected or “usual” wasn’t worth the effort ~ that we needed to make the investment in making each task our own
  8. He spent his life looking outside of himself to “pay it forward” in his community and society
  9. He held his children to high standards of behavior, but knew when to scold and when to hug
  10. He worked hard and with a passion, but he also knew when it was more important to turn off the motor to idle in a boat with a fishing pole or sitting silently waiting for what Henri Cartier Bresson called the decisive moment when all elements move into optimal space

It will be ten years in November since I lost my father.  While I still miss him desperately, I am grateful for the blessing of having him as my father, my teacher, and my mentor.  I am grateful that with every off-the-wall, out-of-the-box idea or plan I came up with he supported my right to explore that idea or plan and stood beside me for gentle support during it’s evolution… if he felt it was really out of line, I would get suggestions of approaches I might try also.  (That being said, if I wanted to ride my tricycle out into traffic I would get more than gentle suggestions!)

Happy Father’s Day Pop!

Love,  Me


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How Did I Get To Be The Rebellious Child?

My mother used to describe me as her “rebellious child.”  Of course, I protested against that label.  Until adulthood, I perceived myself to be shy and quiet child who did what she was told to do.  The reality is, speaking is not a prerequisite for expressing oneself!  In my early twenties I found my voice… look out world!!

I have always been involved in protesting one injustice or another.  I have fought passionately, at times loudly, always persistently and often successfully.  The price has been some desired opportunities lost.  What is right and just does not always win in the game of life. It also usually does not put one in the best financial situation.   I have been able to gather followers, but often not those in power.  They’ve had their own agenda, and usually not one we shared.

I remember graduating from college and beginning the process of generating enough resumes to place end to end stretching “from sea to shining sea.”  My degree was in Art Education, I was in search of a job as an elementary school art teacher.  My first interview was with an outstanding school district in a desirable area of suburban Philadelphia.  I met with the Superintendent first, then the Assistant Superintendent.  They were impressed!  I convinced myself I had the job offer locked up.  In this particular school district the building administrators had the final say as to hiring.

I met with the principal.  He took me on a tour of the building.  The art teacher had been with the district since the dawn of time, had opened the art department of four of the district’s elementary schools.  She was retiring having been worshiped by the current building principal.  When we stopped in the art room to observe her for a few minutes I observed the entire class of fourth graders drawing every line together following the teachers example on the chalkboard.  Her philosophy of art education was the polar opposite of mine! 

“What would you do if little Johnny refused to draw that branch of pussy willow with the rest of the class and insisted he was going to draw a boat?”  I was frozen in my chair.  I really wanted this job and I knew what I had to do to get it.  Yet, to do so would compromise who I am and what I believe.  I had seconds to make a major decision that would affect a career I was just beginning.  I deliberately forfeited the job.  My life has been a repetition of these experiences.  Despite the losses of jobs and opportunities, I have not regretted my path.  I don’t know where this _______ comes from.  I would fill in that space with the word “strength,” others would fill in the blank with “stubborn stupidity.”  Is it integrity that causes me to walk away, or is it a mental defect that prevents me from “playing well with others and going with the flow?”

My latest theory is that sometimes children absorb the regrets of the parents.  My father worked for a large company in Philadelphia in his twenties.  He was married with two young sons.  He was hired to work as a photographer on a special top secret project.  There were no conversations, no explanations, simply directions as to his tasks.  He worked with armed guards flanking his sides while he took the specified photographs, developed the film and printed his pictures which he never saw again.  The company was surrounded by high fences and armed guards.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1956 by Yousuf Karsh

Years ago I had taken a trip to Ottawa and visited the National Gallery of Art.  An extraordinary building with an exhibition close to my heart, Karsh: The Art of the Portrait.  My father and I shared a love of photography.  I shared the catalog from the exhibition with him when I returned.  He turned a page to a portrait of a man who had one hand on his hip, one holding a pipe in front of a chalkboard with formulas and calculations covering the chalkboard.  A small wooden sign rested in the chalk tray, “Do Not Erase.”  My father was brought to tears as what may have been one of his greatest unresolved conflicts rose to the surface.

The photograph of what appeared to be a professor of chemistry or math was J. Robert Oppenheimer.  My father lived to the age of 84 believing that he had worked on the Manhattan Project ~ the development of the atom bombs that were later dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   He saw his involvement in this secret project as the ultimate betrayal.  I often wonder if that sense of betrayal was imbedded in his DNA when I was conceived.  Once born I began my journey of questioning and refusing to participate in any project I could not successfully integrate into my core being.


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Right-Brain/Left-Brain, Who’s In Charge?

A friend once described the difference between right brain dominant people and left brain dominant people in terms of butterflies and gardens.  Lenny the left-brain dominant butterfly is a winged creature on a mission.  If Lenny’s goal is to get from side A of the garden to side B of the garden he will warm up his wings, make a sequential list of the steps necessary to complete the task, file a flight plan, visualize himself landing on the fence post on side B of the garden and take off.  Lenny Leftbrain will keep his eye on the goal and go to the B fence post, directly to the B fence post without stopping for nectar, without pollinating.

Conversely, Rita the right-brain dominant butterfly is a little random and, quite frankly, a flight risk.  Rita will sit atop fence post A to survey the route she will take to fence post B.  Rita is more interested in getting the most from her trip than flying in a straight line with the goal of arriving in a timely manner.  Life is too short not to explore, inspect and examine every flower in the garden before arriving at her destination.  Rita tries to focus on fence post B, but the scents arising from the garden keep drawing her attention away.  The air traffic controller in tower A asks for a flight plan.

“Ah-h-h-h, B, I’m flying to B.”

“When?”

“Soon.”  The controller in tower B breaks in.

”Rita, what is your ETA for B post?”

“Today, it’s definitely today.”

“Rita, what time today?”

“I don’t know, when I get there.”

Rita Rightbrain will indeed “get there” but not before she has visited every flower in the garden.

We are all born with a predisposition to be either left or right brain dominant.  We do however have some control over these mental processes.  In my own life I have found that depending on my current life work, I will lean to the left or right.  (Please note I am talking brain processes, not political stance.  That does not sway side to side.)

If I am performing a job that requires superior organizational skills, sequential tasks requiring mastery of language I will not only exhibit impeccable organization, I will test dead center between left and right brain dominance or further to the left.  If I am on my own to design tasks (or not), or involved in work that requires forming relationships between things, artistic or creative endeavors, I will test to the far right in brain function.

We’ve taken a trip to the garden to tell you, dear readers, that I have three other blog posts started this week that I intended to finish and post.  They sit as drafts with no endings because I’m still visiting flowers.  The air traffic controller in tower B has lost sight of me.  Like Rita, I have no ETA.  I’ve been listed as MIA.  Perhaps in the interim I will just send postcards from the garden.

“What did you say Katherine?”

” Oh, wow, Katherine says the calla lilies are in bloom!!”

Love those calla lilies… I think they are over in that corner…


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Does it Make Scents to You??

Gracie, my eight year old golden retriever and I have a usual route for our morning walk.  I’ve been taken aback the last few mornings by the scent on our walk.  No, not that… that goes into a pink biodegradable bag, tied shut and carried to the dumpster…

The honeysuckle is in bloom.  Although I moved ten years ago, I immediately am taken back to the house I lived in for 27 years in Pennsylvania.  The honeysuckle would grow wild along my back fence and for a brief period in late spring I was treated to a wonderfully sweet smell that seemed to fill the neighborhood.  I would smell that sent, close my eyes and feel safe and secure knowing I was “home.”

I used to teach a graduate level course for teachers on “Brain Compatible Learning.”  Scent is perhaps the strongest of our senses in imprinting the brain with associations.  A scent can take us to places we haven’t been for a long time with the associated emotions.  What scents create experiences for you?  As a writer, how could scents create levels of symbolic meaning to characters?

Gardenias always take me to my senior prom having carried a nosegay of gardenias set among colored carnations.  Fresh cut grass sends up red flags declaring DANGER right before I run to the medicine cabinet for a Zyrtec with my eyes tearing and sneezes coming one after the other.  Thanksgiving would be just another day without the smell of roasting turkey filling the house.  I could get through the day without eating it, but not without smelling it.  The open campfire brings me to childhood and memories of girl scouts.

Some scents usually elicit a common response ~ peppermint is calming and cool and puts the brain at peace even without the taste.  Skunk is acrid and distasteful, if it is emanating from a beloved pet it also causes the brain to scream in pain.  A good realtor will tell you that besides staging your house for potential buyers with paint and furniture arrangement to throw an apple pie or a loaf of bread into the oven.  It helps the prospective home buyer to visualize themselves living in that warm cozy environment.

Sometimes scents are unique to the individual.  When most people smell a pot of chicken noodle soup bubbling on the stove they feel nurtured, loved and the center of attention.  It conjures up the warm fuzzy feelings of a thick fleece blanket and a steaming cup of tea…I get all of those feelings from a plate of spaghetti and meatballs…and there is not one drop of Italian blood running through my veins!

As a young child my mother worked.  When I was home sick from school my Great-Aunt Margaret would travel by trolley, bus and on foot to get to our house to take care of me.  She always stopped at the grocery store and came bearing the ingredients for spaghetti sauce and meatballs.  I suspect Aunt Margaret’s DNA is responsible for a long line of “out of the box” women in my family.  She wasn’t Italian either, but the smell of that huge pot of sauce and meatballs on the stove makes me feel better immediately!  It made me feel loved, nurtured and secure.  That smell still makes me feel that way while chicken noodle soup doesn’t do a thing for me!

A trip to the Jersey shore (no, not anywhere near Snookie) held a myriad of scents.  The salted sea air has a smell that, when combined with the sound of crashing waves, creates a steady pace and rhythm that my body will quickly follow.  The beach is a calming and peaceful environment for me.  A walk on the boardwalk floods your senses with the consecutive food smells of pizza, pier fries, cotton candy, popcorn and salt water taffy as you “walk the boards.”

One year I took my nieces who were then about 5 and 10 years old to Avalon, NJ for a few days to stay with my aunt and uncle.  We were always in search of treasures and found one on our last day.  Finding a dead horseshoe crab on the beach, we immediately named him Horace and decided to bring him home.  Horace wound up in a plastic trash bag on the floor in the back seat of the car.  We stopped at the Peter Pan Diner for dinner on the way back to Pennsylvania.  People in the diner kept looking our way as we entered, sat down and ordered and ate our diner.  We were so proud of our gorgeous bronze coloring accumulated after only a few days on the beach.  We knew how jealous our fellow diners were!

Returning to the car we almost passed out as we flung the car doors open and were greeted square in the face with Odeur du Horace imbedded in oppressive air carrying an undertone of damp bathing suits and towels, sea air and sand.  As we continued down the road we had to roll the windows down which helped only a little to make the ride bearable.  It was definitely a seashore synaesthetic experience!!  We realized, with much chagrin, that it was probably not the visual senses of our fellow diners that we had awakened!  After soaking for several weeks (outdoors) Horace finally lost his scent.  He lived with me for many years until the purging before my move to Maine.

S0, where does your sense of smell take you???


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The Evolution of Storytelling

Before the invention of written language we had oral storytelling.  It was direct, intimate and allowed for the additional benefit of passing on the principles, morals and ideals contained within a family or society.  Values were imbedded in the stories that were told, and how they were told.  Oral storytelling allowed for further dialogue and discussion leading to a deeper understanding of the intent of the verbal author.  Indigenous peoples historically have valued their storytellers as the most important members of their community.  They were, after all, responsible for the continuation of their culture and all it represents.

Through the evolution of language into a visual form (the symbols, alphabet, words, paintings) I am sure there was much distress over the concern that visual, non-verbal communication would be the end of culture and society and they knew it.  It removed the human interaction, it removed the content control.  It was a change to a “one static story fits all.”  If I accept the idea that I am an old soul who has reincarnated through various periods in history (and let’s face it, people who ask the questions I ask, and ponder the thoughts I ponder, aren’t new souls) I can literally picture myself using that storyteller voice to rather loudly and vehemently protest the use of visual symbols to tell a tale.

Here we are in the 21st century facing yet another change in communication and how we tell our stories…the great “digital” and e-publishing transition.  When e-books were introduced I was appalled!  Nothing could ever replace the feel of the paper pages, the still faint smell of the ink on the newly printed page, the tangible tactile experience of turning the page and the sense of accomplishment as the part of the book in the left hand becomes heavier than the story elements yet to come in the right hand.

My “favorite things” list includes books.  I love to fill book shelves with my paper treasurers.  Some are little books with a single illustrated poem.  Some are huge coffee table art books filled with paintings and photographs that inspire me.  They become a symbol in themselves.  They tell a story of who I am, what I value and what I believe.  If someone were to come into my home and peruse my book shelves they would be able to easily identify what defines me.  That analysis may even include my set of Harry Potter books.  I purchase the first two while visiting Dublin.  I quickly found out that the American and British publications were visually very different, had some minor differences in vocabulary and in the case of the first book, bear a different title.  You would find that I am a person who cannot “mess up the set” and ordered each successive Harry Potter book from Amazon.com.uk to be sure they “matched.”       

I read an entry from a fellow blogger the other day who was packing for a trip.  She is an avid reader who was literally removing clothes from her suitcase to be replaced with more books because she couldn’t decide what she was going to want to read while she was away (A problem I can certainly identify with).  Traveling in this day and age on an airline with half of your personal library will be costly.

One of my other “favorite things” used to be to spend an afternoon in a book store looking through the tables and shelves to examine what was new and different in print.  What’s been published lately that speaks to me?  I would take a pile to the café (a new concept in itself in the past 20 years), and get a cup of coffee (and if I am looking for a really multi-sensory experience a piece of pound cake or cheesecake to “go with.”).  I would spend hours handling the books, looking through the books and giving them my “stop at 3 random sections of the book, read a paragraph to see if it speaks to me” test.  From there I would begin to sort into the must read now, I’ll get around to it, I don’t think so, and no way piles.  The last pile has often been psychically thrown into the universe as a title my book group will surely pick.  Quite often I have later been surprised by those books.

So, if books are digital, what will happen to my book store afternoons?  I have already had to forgo those leisurely afternoons.  The inventory in book stores is dwindling.  It is not a good time to be a book store owner, independent or chain.  If I can’t physically peruse the volumes, I fear I am missing those kismet afternoons when I find a book I wasn’t looking for winds up in my hands and answers questions I didn’t know I needed answered.  What will happen to those afternoons as we progress into the age of digital storytelling?

I have a Kindle.  I love my Kindle.  I bought my Kindle for a very practical reason…with the click of a button I can make the font size as big or small as I want.  The better we get to know each other, the tighter the bond.  I love it because I don’t have to labor over how many books I have room to pack…my entire library now weighs 7 ounces.  I guess I will need to embrace and be grateful for the advances of publishing in the 21st century while I ponder the list of circumstances whose loss I am grieving.  Perhaps my contribution can be to find a way to embrace the future without giving up what I love from “the way things were.”

Where are you on this digital highway?