Contemplation, Creativity, and Companions by the Sea


The first time I opened Gift from the Sea, I was pedaling barefoot on the exercise bike in the basement. It’s the story of this stage of my life, I’m circling my legs around in full stride only to realize I’m a hamster in a wheel. I stopped pedaling as Anne Morrow Lindbergh described my frenzied days in pointed poetic lines written half a century earlier. Continue reading

A Well-Punctuated Writing Life {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 17}

This past summer, Austin Chapman clicked up the volume on a song he’d never heard. When the sound of angelic descants whirled into his ears from a recording of Mozart’s Lacrimosa, the young man wept. It wasn’t just the first time he’d heard this piece of music, it was the first time he’d heard music at all.

Sure, he had felt the boom of bass notes or the room shaking with the beat of a drum, but with revolutionary new hearing aids, he was now able to hear the most delicate of notes and discern the nuances of a song.

People all over the world have been weighing in on what bands or genres he needs to listen to next. He’s been working his way through the centuries and decades, tracing music’s journey and hearing the wide spectrum of sound.

But he has his limits, his ears still sensitive to all the new input.

Ironically, he finds himself turning his “hearing aids off more often than before,” enjoying the pause between notes of conversation or the soothing melodies he’s come to love.

“Silence is still my favorite sound,” he said.

In the comments under the Atlantic article, one reader, abk1985, carried on with the theme saying we should all experiment with a sabbath of sound: “I would recommend putting away the earbuds and keeping the car stereo off for a couple weeks. Then, pick a quiet Saturday afternoon when you have nothing you have to do, and deliberately sit down and listen….to go from [silence] to actually hearing it: always a spine tingling experience!”

We come back with ears fresh for the full experience of music. The pauses between notes lend greater power to the sound. The silence gives us margin to ponder the last tone and anticipate the next.

As much as writing may feel like a fun hobby or a fulfilling outlet for us, when we are writing consistently for a readership in the form of blog posts, magazine articles or books, writing can be work…even bordering on squirrely overactivity at times.

But then there’s God who showed His artistry in speaking Word to make the world. He carved out a Hebrew sequence of 56 Sabbath words on the Sinai tablets, three verses full in our translation. He wrote the fourth commandment longer than the rest and He must have done so for a reason.

Last weekend at a writer’s conference, 24/6 author Matthew Sleeth shared words that resonate with the linguist in me: “God did not intend your life to be one long run-on sentence. You take out the punctuation when you take out the Sabbath.”

So, gather your bits of story, draft a mess in your scratch journal, then let your words rest a bit. Enjoy a sabbath. You’ll come back to your work refreshed and ready for crescendo.

{How does the idea of sabbath play into your work as a writer? What sorts of things do you find restful and restorative? What results have you seen when you’ve set your writing aside for a time and come back to it later?}

This is Day 17 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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The Art of Making Mulberry Paper {A Fair Trade Giveaway!}

I nestle into my quiet spot on the balcony. My book and pencil are invited, as usual. Graphite settles into grooves in the margins of bound paper, all these pages made from former branches cut from the trunk and given new purpose.

Skinny trees along my property line reach long arms toward me. The one nearest offers teeny purple berries.

A picture from the past flashes: stripes of red on finger tips and blotches of purple on the sundress, colors of a childhood summer.

I walk over and snap a mulberry from the twig, close my eyes and let it burst on the tongue. Better than any flavor off the ice cream truck. I help myself to another, then toy with the torn seam of its leaf.

I remember other leaves like this chewed through like swiss cheese. Before the island hopping, my sister and I rode tuk-tuks on dirt roads in the mountains of Thailand where artisans carved out creative pause under open canopy.

There, mulberry leaves fell to little creatures bent over in labor, spinning thread for the loom. It was a sweat shop really, my sister mumbled when we got a good look at the silk worms. So, we got out fast and went on to the happy garden where sunbathing orchids wrapped their roots around splintered wood.

Around the bend, artisans set out new creations to cure in the sunlight before the next monsoon. This product started with mulberry branches torn from the tree, bleeding sugar water, pale flinders cracking in open air.

Women peeled the bark back like skin off a potato and threw the branches into water, plunging them deep. The branches came apart in ribbons the color of newborn skin. There was no rest. It was all rapids.

The ribbons swirled through the metal canal and hurtled toward fangs that gnawed remnants of wood down to pulp. The bits sprawled into a slurry and cascaded down, not looking like much of anything.

But all of the hurry, the movement, the fragmentation came down to this one place. When it looked like nothing but murky water, there were hands that moved sure, ones grooved and browned like the bark of a tree, hands that grabbed hold of a sturdy frame and lifted it from the turbulence and into calm air. Water gushed down from the frame’s wire screen. Feathery wisps settled in, enmeshed. Frenzied fibers interlocked and found rest after  madness.

Without this stillness, there would be no becoming, only falling apart.

Artisans in straw hats arranged the sheets in the sun, each frame propped against another, forming a village of A-frame tents. And in the warmth of day, in the stillness, strands that once came apart in chaos now bonded together in a whole new way…becoming mulberry paper.



Experience the benefits of solitude (and the beauty of mulberry paper!) by winning this beautiful hand-crafted, recycled, fair trade journal and the thoughtful booklet “Write for Your Soul: The Hows and Whys of Journaling” by Jeff and Mindy Caliguire, courtesy of Soulcare. Plus, I’m throwing in a little twig pencil, one of my favorite finds of late.

To enter today’s giveaway, comment on this post before midnight on Friday, June 29, sharing one way you practice solitude in the midst of your frenzied life. The winning entry will be selected at random and revealed on this post on Saturday, June 30.

For more entries, simply “like” Message in a Mason Jar on Facebook or follow @darcywileywords on Twitter and re-comment here to let me know you did so.

And the winner is…Amber! I’ll be including another SoulCare journal set in the Gift from the Sea giveaway at the end of our easy, breezy summer book club. Stay tuned….

Laundry Dunes, Everyday Vacations…and a Summer Book Club!!!

I can count on one hand the times in my married life I’ve had a perfect closet. In that closet, everything has a place: short sleeves on one rod, long sleeves on another, dresses and skirts on another. Belts and strings are tied up at the waist, never dangling low. Sleeves are smoothed out. Hangers are equidistant. Each rod is an array of color in the order of roygbiv.

Every time I’ve gotten it to that point, I’ve always had plans for keeping it that way, but really it’s like sweeping the the beach. Just as soon as I think I’ve got my spot smoothed out, the winds of busyness keep moving the sand about, and I just can’t keep up. Within a week, the clothes are lingering long in the basket and the dryer steam cycle has to save the day, springing them to life again.

As we are packing for a day trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore this weekend, in my house, laundry is piling like those sand dunes. Do you know how dunes are formed? Sand moves through the air on bursts of wind and stops when it comes upon an obstacle, like the trunk of a tree or a large rock. And then it builds.

For me, that “obstacle” is creativity and the written word. Each day, when nap time comes around and the kids are tucked quietly (well, on a good day, anyway!) in their rooms, I retreat to my notebook and pencil, my keyboard and screen, a little vacation in the middle of my day.

In my last post, I mentioned Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s affirmation that women need solitude in order to “find again the true essence of themselves”. Sometimes that may mean taking some time to get away alone like she did on Captiva Island in the early 1950s. Sometimes it means resting from our work in the middle of our day to day and taking time to find our own contemplative corner.

On vacation, domestic work is cut to a minimum. I make simple meals, dirtying only a few dishes. Clean up is quick and easy. I bring a minimal wardrobe and wear things more than once. I forget about make-up and perfectly-coiffed hair, and instead let the wind give me the tousled look.

Of her own vacation, Anne said, “I find I don’t bustle about with unnecessary sweeping and cleaning here. I am no longer aware of the dust. I have shed my Puritan conscience about absolute tidiness and cleanliness. Is it possible that, too, is a material burden?”

When nap time is over and I return from my mini-vacation, I do have to work a bit at the laundry to keep us from getting lost in it. I simplify and speed up the task by keeping myself from that Puritan perfectionism. If a shirt comes out of the dryer inside out, that is how I hang it. The seconds I save on each item add up into valuable minutes of time working at my real passion. My creative call may be an obstacle to a perfectly clean house, but I’m willing to live in view of the laundry dunes and a few inside out shirts in order to feel the breeze in my hair and sand in my toes on this daily little vacation all my own.

I hope you’ll join me in exploring more of these ideas as we dig into Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic book Gift from the Sea in our brand new Stories Preserved Summer Book Club!  This memoir helps women contemplate how to live a simple life in the midst of a complicated world. Take a virtual vacation with us this summer as we ponder such topics as love, marriage, the work of the mother, friendship, the creative life, simplicity, solitude, generosity, communion, youth, and age, all through the metaphor of beautiful seashells found on a quiet island. This is a short, refreshing read perfect for an easy, breezy summer book club. It’ll be our own little getaway.

I will write on a different chapter each Monday throughout June and July. Make sure to sign up right now by subscribing in the sidebar and commenting below. Then you’ll want to comment on each Monday’s Gift from the Sea post. Each comment will get you one entry in the drawing for a Gift from the Sea prize package at the end of summer. The more Gift from the Sea posts you comment on, the more entries you get!

{Linking up today with Hayley at The Tiny Twig and Jessi at Naptime Diaries for a series on Giving Up on Good (in exchange for something better).}