CREATE-tivity: What The World Needs Now



Pool parties were a fun fixture in my growing-up years—a time before e-mails and texts. When party time rolled around, I’d dive into making the invitations. 


With a VHS tape of As the World Turns playing on a TV the size of a washing machine, I’d cut images from magazines and newspapers, then tape them on to a piece of paper outlining all the party details. Then (when ATWT was over, of course), off to the local drug store I’d go to photocopy my creation on just the right setting so you couldn’t see the edges of the tape on the copies. And, voila! Time to circulate the invites. 

I’m guessing the thirteen-year-old invitees didn’t appreciate all this effort, especially when a “Hey can you come to a pool party this Saturday?” in the school hallway or over the phone would have sufficed. But we all have our process.  

I’ve basically been making collages since. Not the photocopy pool party kind. But in other areas of my life—a lot of them.

 

In every writing workshop I’ve led, there’s always a stack of magazines for storyboards and brainstorming. I’ve kept a bottle of Modge Podge around for the spontaneous project for as long as I can remember. 

Recently, I re-upped my supply with new-fangled varieties. (When recuperation necessitated a lot of sitting, what better activity is there than decoupaging? I’m here to tell you, you can Modge Podge anything.)

Heck, my house is one big collage. The ‘eclectic’ style that began with ragtag garage sale acquisitions in my twenties, is now loosely curated around one principle: welcome in what you love and hope it looks good together. 

So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when collaging found its way into my latest middle grade novel. I wasn’t thinking, I want to write about collaging. But somehow, I did.

Excerpt from LUCKY:

“We’re making collages,” I say.

“What are collages?” Claire asks.

“Disorganized art,” Tim says. 

I laugh before realizing he looks genuinely afraid of the art supplies in front of us.


That’s one of the many glorious things about writing—creating. All scraps are welcomed, or at least the parts and pieces ready for exploring.

Writing, painting, improv, music, quilting, coloring, doodling, sculpting, jewelry making, repurposed puzzling (yes, that’s a thing!). Any activity that puts something new into the world…is CREATE-tivity. And I’d say the world could use as much as we can collectively muster. 

 

A worldwide collage of inspiration. 


What CREATE-tivities are you into these days?




 





Shame On Trial



When I was a kid, shame was associated with something you’d done wrong. Or something that had been done to you, or something you should have done, or…
 
I wasn’t totally clear on shame back then, other than to say: it was not a good thing. Shame was the hot potato of emotion. Thrown away upon arrival. Best never to rub up against it, lest you fall into its fiery pit of damnation. The word—let alone the destination—was associated with bad things and bad people, and it was a very bad place to linger too long.
 
Fast forward to the 1990’s when I was in my 20s. My desires were seemingly simple. I wanted it all. To be loved and respected. Taken seriously but also adored. It was an idealistic time—the era of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
 
Remember how judgey the collective universe was about the blue dress and Linda Tripp—and how both women were the punch line on SNL skits? I remember, as a girl around Monica’s age, feeling sorry for her privately while publicly nodding as she was rendered a deranged stalker of powerful men.
 
That was my own shame talking, or not-talking. To show empathy for a woman who’d— gotten herself into all that trouble, shaming her family not to mention the Presidency because, after all, the guy who held the title and all the power, was so brilliant, that we needed to discard anyone and anything that got in his way—felt risky. 
 
It doesn’t anymore—I’m sorry, Monica. None of that was okay.
 
Now, fast forward thirty or so years to this week. 
 
I’m now a middle-aged woman who still wants it all, including walking without pain. Hence, I’m one-month post-foot surgery and in a recliner for 6 weeks. It’s weird and uncomfortable. And while I’m making the most of it, catching up with friends, reading, and writing…there’s been some serious TV watching too. 
 
Which is how I found myself captive on the first day of the Fulton County hearing in Atlanta to determine if Fani Willis is still eligible to be the District Attorney in charge of the election fraud case in Georgia.
 
I don’t know what I was expecting—except to say not much. However, when a friend called to check-in at the end of the day, I confessed immediately: “I watched CNN, ALL day!”
 
Then I struggled to describe why. What had been so interesting? Why had this hearing held my attention and left me on the verge of speechlessness? 
 
“Fani Willis is amazing,” was all I could think to say. “The timing of her choices stinks but she’s not apologizing and I’m here for it!”
 
I’d watch a grown, accomplish woman be grilled by a literal line of attorneys smugly asking questions dripping with condescension. All to see if she was worthy of bringing a case against a former President (and others) who attempted to allegedly “find some votes” to overturn an election. Oh—and that same guy has publicly smeared women for decades in broad daylight and owes one woman 83 million dollars for defaming her.
 
And then there was Fani. Not at all afraid of explaining her choices. Talking about how she defined relationships. How her private life was her business. How her father had been concerned for her safety. How she paid for things and why. Even why her relationship had ended with the person in question. She was grace under fire and unapologetic. Emotional in moments and steel in others. 
 
Her time on the stand was a masterclass in how to not to accept the shame that others are throwing.
 
Commentators after the testimony (women!) said things like: “She knew better as a woman of color. That she’d be held to a higher standard,” and on and on it went. 
 
But Fani wasn’t playing. And wow was it refreshing to watch.
 
Which led me to an overwhelming sense of hope…and why I’m choosing to write this blog about something other than my usual metaphorical musings.
 
Is it possible that the face of shame is actually changing?

At this ripe stage of life, I now know that shame is natural, even positive sometimes. Actions have consequences. When actions illicit feelings—in us—that encourage the soul, or heart, or mind to feel the pull toward self-correction, that in my opinion, is a productive kind of shame. The emphatic kind for ourselves and others.

But, when that correction comes from a large unyielding collective of people who don’t know us, value our individual experiences, and who may consciously or unconsciously harbor ill-will because “they’ve seen our type before” or “we should have known better”—that’s judgment.

Judgment is always going to be there. But how and to whom we respond is our choice. And there’s power in watching others make choices that we know from a lifetime of our own experience, are hard and hard-fought.

It’s possible, likely even, that it’s not shame that’s changing—but me. And I guess that should be enough. 

But it’s not. Shame isn’t owned by a political party or gender or decade—it’s everywhere, all the time and we’re all complicit in keeping the game of hot potato going. 

Fani’s not on trial. But we are. 





ISHspiration!




Little shiny gems of understanding. Sea glass in washed-up social media garbage. The universe saying: I hear you!


That’s how it feels when a resonating inspirational quote washes over me mid-scroll—and the reason I have so many of them saved in my camera roll. 

I know that many of these quotes are the marks of highly targeted messages of manipulation based on overheard phone conversations, massive amounts of data collected from clicks, and items purchased on Amazon. But it’s still nice to feel understood—simultaneously unique and part of a larger collective of humans experiencing loss, or hurt, or extreme gratitude, or fed-upness, or…

 

The -ors are endless. 

 

For me, internet quotes, just like their sarcastic cousin—the meme—have the power to alter the course of a day after reading what feels like world-ending news. Or while sitting in a meeting that’s spinning in circles. Or experiencing anything in the collective while wondering if you’re the only one feeling a certain way.

 

It’s comforting to know that a person you’ve never met is missing their newly launched college kid too. Or that the colleague who is pulling off engaged in that square on Zoom is also thinking: What are we even talking about right now?

 

Or that the rollercoaster that is middle age is a human stage that will not result in me melting into an actual menopausal puddle. (I could do without some of the images though. The detailed illustrations of apron belly, for instance, that now inundate my feed. No need, Instagram. I have a mirror.)

 

Actual human contact may still the best way to feel the community. But my happyish journey is also showing me that being seen and heard is not a zero-sum game. The well-timed quote, meme, or funny TikTok from a person I barely know can be the difference between feeling alone and aloneish.

 

It takes a village of connection to make sense of this longish journey. And this blog—and all of you—are part of mine. And so is the adorable kid in England who is Door Holder Number Three in his school nativity this year. And every Schitts Creek GIF ever made. 

 

Wishing you and yours a very happyish holiday! 


No Ish in Friendship

What Are Three Happy Words?

Happiness is a personal topic. It's somewhere north of asking about hygiene habits but south of religion or politics. Ask someone what makes them happy, and they’ll have answers.

 

But…

What is happiness? 

What does it feel like?

And look like?

And is it in our control? 

 

These are just a few of the questions that my book club and I explored at our recent gathering.

 

First, let me be more precise. I said book club, which likely suggests toiling over literary themes and the satisfaction of a particular ending or…no. We are not that kind of book club. 

 

Our club is also not the kind filled with people who gather but haven’t read the book. We’ve all read the book and likely ten others since our last meeting. We’re just generally more interested in each other. We’re friends. 


We have varied lives and interests and philosophies on all sorts of things. Our desire to spend time together is not predicated on seeing everything the same way…but it is firmly based on a fierce respect for each other’s happiness. 

 

The collective gasp if one of us has been wronged. Tears shed followed by murders plotted if someone or something has messed with one of our kids. Those are common friendship themes explored—whether the book in question obliges or not.

 

So, it was not one bit of a stretch for me to ask if they’d dive into this somewhat abstract topic when all they wanted to do was pour more wine. I came prepared with scraps of paper and markers. And off we went.




If happiness were an animal, which animal would it be? 

 

This question was answered with uber speed.


Lab, yellow lab, puppy, sea otter.

 

Note to self: happiness and animals generally go together.


Three words that describe how happy FEELS…

 

Now, this where all hell broke loose. Okay, not really but there was a certain level of panic coming from a book club bestie.


“What do you mean how happy feels?” Her look was incredulous. I started giggling as the others stepped in, to give examples of their words. “I was a math major!” she said, as though this explained it all—her aversion to digging in about how happiness felt.  

We had a good laugh as I tried to let my friend off the hook. This exercise was after all voluntary, I reminded her. There were no grades being given, and absolutely nothing at stake.  But she wouldn’t have it. She is a rule follower, by nature. She sputtered before adding her words to the pile.


The final question, by my own estimation, was the hardest. But my happyish focus group did not find it that way.


Do you believe happiness is always within your reach?

 

Yes, yes, yes, yes-ish (tee-hee).

 

Score one for decisiveness. 


So, what is the sage wisdom, in this the fledgling stage of my very serious happyish research? 

I’m still gathering data.

 

BUT I can conclusively state that there’s no ish in friendship—the actual letters are there but they’re in a different order, which may be the point. 

 

Happiness, for me, feels like...gathering with an eclectic group of friends who show up willing to dig deep and simultaneously scratch the surface of life’s big questions. And it’s a bonus if the book is good too.  









 

Happy(ish)





I started to write my annual blog…about summer in the garden. About my amazing tomatoes and the herbs-a-plenty, and the flowers that didn’t flourish but arrived with sparing splendor. I was busy crafting metaphors about my writing and the boys, and time moving on and…

 

Something stopped me. I just wasn’t feeling it. 

 

Which is weird because weaving words into sentences—that’s my happy state. And, tending tomatoes and flowers—is my happy place. Throw in my two awesome boys alongside the most loving partner a gal could ask for—and all that should add up to happy with a capital H.

 

But honestly, I’m more happyish.

 

And…

Tiredish

Inspiredish

Frustratedish

Dissapointedish

Contentish

Oldish

Confusedish

Hopefulish

 

Which feels more than and not enough ish.

 

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one out here who feels this way. The sheer number of non-fiction books with Happy in their title tells me that there are more than a few of us out here wandering in ishland.

 

So, I’ve decided rather than fighting the feeling—or the lack thereof, to lean in.


Between now and “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!” (insert sarcastic laughter), I’ll be exploring the origins of ish and how to get from here to there…and where there even is anyway.

 

Open invitation…if you’re a long-ago friend from places of origin, or a writing soul that I met while toiling over our craft, or a parent that I PTA’d alongside, or a former or current colleague…..or…..reach out: hollyhowley@cox.net. 


Let’s exploreish this topic together in a future blog. 

 

In the meantime, please enjoyish these photos of tomatoes from…summer in the garden.





Re-Nesting (It's a Thing!)



The Gambler circa 1980 something


Re-nesting is a thing. And if it’s not a thing, let’s make it a thing. Cause I need something to get me to the other side of milestone May.

 

Re-nesting is like the well-known burst of domesticated energy right before a person gives birth, known as nesting, but at the stage when the birdling is about ready to be released from the nest out into the world. It’s the conscious act of purging the inevitable clutter associated with the busyness of a full throttle life. (I say “conscious act” because bursts of energy are no longer viable at the re-nesting stage.)

 

Put simply: Re-nesting is a way to productively use the volcano of unrest associated with saying goodbye to the humans you love most by ridding your life of the crap that’s weighing you down. 

 

Now that I’ve defined the term (lookout Marie Kondo), let me illustrate what I found during a recent bout of re-nesting—in my basement.

 

Clothing Time Capsule

It’s hard to remember exactly when the final decision was made. Not to have a third kid. But judging by the clothes I found in our basement—it was around size 7 or 8. That’s when I stopped storing and started on-site purging from the closets of my two boys.

 

That was almost a decade in, and over a decade ago leaving a lot of clothes waiting in bins. I’d thought about sorting the clothes many, many times over the years. But the emotional fortitude required to peer back in time and then decide what to do with those clothes was overwhelming. 

 

So, they sat and sat and sat—until the re-nesting began. 

 

After the many years of angst about the mountain of clothes in my basement, here is what I found: not much. Sorting my sons’ clothes was not nearly as overwhelming or emotional as I’d imagined. The memories lingered, for sure. Some clothes were washed within an inch of their last thread, many barely used, and others I didn’t remember. But the process did not pack nearly the emotional punch I’d been bracing for.

 

Mid-sort, I reached out to neighbor friend at the beginning of their journey. They confirmed that between their own kids and lots of family, they’d put the clothes to good us. It felt amazing to hand them all over.

 

Except for a few time-capsule pieces that I’ll saddle the boys with one day. Which leads me to the bulk of my sorting…

 

WHAT Are Those?

I hadn’t fully appreciated the massive volume of boxes that I’d inherited from my mother over the years until the re-nesting began. She’d brought bags of this and bags of that on her many visits. And I had a vague memory of a large unloading around the time we were moving into our first house, and I was pregnant with my oldest. 

 

I shoved those boxes into a storage closet and over the next 20 years (yes, 20!), I moved them from space to space, house to house waiting for “the day” when I would give the contents a once-over to make sure I wasn’t throwing away priceless family memorabilia. 

 

What I did not realize until “the day” that would turn out be a week arrived was that my mother had packed up my entire childhood bedroom without purging ANYTHING. Imagine opening boxes that have been sitting in your basement for two decades and finding…

 

·      A McDonalds takeout bag of letters, receipts, and random life memorabilia 

·      A Kenny Rogers concert program

·      Every art project you ever made (art was NOT my subject)

·      Every letter ever written you by people ranging from your first crush at summer bible camp, to your deceased grandparents, to high school besties, and people that you haven’t the slightest idea who they are but claim to know you so well that they…wrote you a letter.

·      And your extracted wisdom teeth (yes…you read that correctly)

 

There was more, so much more. 

 

After comparing notes with a few friends, apparently, this is a common occurrence—parents dumping childhood stuff on their offspring right around the time of a milestone, like a marriage, or the purchase of a new home, or the birth of a first child.

 

So, lookout boys, just when you’re settling in…that’s when I’ll show up with your trophies, academic accolades, and art projects from third grade. I will, however, spare you your wisdom teeth. You’re welcome.

 

Priceless No More

The next category of items was of my own collecting. D├ęcor from the early stages of adulting—when candles meant sophistication and lampshade versatility was a must. 

 

I found thirty-two lampshades. I also unpacked several candelabras. My younger self was much fancier than I remember and did so much entertaining that she needed different styles of candelabras for every occasion. I do still love a good tablescape but candles and their eloquent holders no longer speak to me. I’m in a tealights and fresh flowers phase. 

 

Hopefully a young Holly clone happened into the local Goodwill during the week of the purge and found these no-longer-priceless-to-me treasures. If so, they are now swimming in candelabras. 

 

That Box Is Not Special

Finally, I wish to share a public service announcement of sorts. 

 

To the person out there who just bought a medium-sized appliance, say a computer or microwave or espresso maker who is contemplating keeping the box it came in because it’s the perfect size for any number of items that you can’t think of at this moment…listen up. This message is for you. 

 

Take out your scissors and collapse that sucker. 

 

Otherwise, you’ll store that box for years and years and it will procreate into other similar sized boxes that you’ll convince yourself probably contain priceless something-er-others. Until eventually you peer inside those boxes to find nothing but packing materials and outdated appliance manuals. 

 

Again, I repeat, take the box to the recycling bin. Now. Like this minute.

 

And to the other Me’s out there who LOVE to wrap gifts. Maybe you’ve just ordered an item on Amazon, and it came in the most amazing box. What constitutes an amazing box, a non-gift wrapper might wonder? Box lovers know them when they see them. 

 

For me special boxes are usually two pieces with a top that is a different color than the bottom, it’s made of sturdy material, and big enough to hold a pair of flat shoes or a scarf—and here’s the most important trait—it’s a shape that doesn’t give what’s inside away.

 

I have a message for THAT person. The box in your hands is not special. You don’t need to save the box. There are plenty (too many) boxes in the world. Another one will come along at the exact moment you need it. Recycle the box. Now. Like this minute.

 

You’re Winning

If you’ve read this far, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You likely figured out much earlier than I did to recycle your kids’ clothing as they were growing. You’re probably not hoarding lampshades. And there’s no random wisdom teeth in your basement (that you know of). You are winning, my friend.

 

But if, like me, this season of milestones is forcing you to unpack an excess of emotion—know that you’re not alone. There’s a lot of us out here sorting. Trying our best to create space for what comes next while honoring the many labors of love that came before.

 

And unfortunately, there is no special box for that. 

 

(So, recycle that box. Now. Like this minute.)

 



Shoshin





 

No resolutions for me this year. No dry January or cleansing regimens or familiar “eat less carbs” mantra. There was not an ounce of “new me” inhabiting this been-there-done-that girl as the clock struck 2023. 

 

I was good enough, as is. It was time to listen to the algorithm of middle age. Engage my comfy clothes and find the new intellectually curious binge watch.  

 

First Sunday of the new year, firm in my lack of conviction, I headed off to church with my people. As we sat waiting for the service to start, I pushed away the to-do list of tasks that had been punted during the “most wonderful time of the year” and let the music overwhelm me. I thought of bacon and mugs of coffee…and…

 

“Choose a word from the basket,” the pastor said to the congregation. “The hope is that it provides you with inspiration for the year ahead.” Then she proceeded to illustrate through thoughtful example, the many ways in which this practice had guided her in the past year. Nodding parishioners surrounded me. They too had been moved by a word extracted from a basket last year around this time. 

 

Nope. I would not be pulled back into the vortex of be better, do better. 

 

I sank further into the breakfasty thoughts and prayed I would draw a universal word that meant nothing or everything. Or better yet one that gave me permission to let it all go, like: acceptance. 

 

When it was my turn, I drew a card, then passed the basket along to my son. 

 

“What did you get?” he asked.

 

How was I to explain to my almost twenty-year old that no matter what this silly word was—I was done with the wanderlust associated with the turning of the calendar page. That I’d said good riddance to the exhausting pile of never-ending expectations that kept us all tethered to the idea that one should forever be and do more. 

 

He was still staring at me. Fine.

 

I looked down at the blue card. 

 

Shoshin. It was oh-so-appropriate that I’d have to look mine up. Later.

 

“Shoshin,” I said. “What’s yours?” 

 

“Joy,” he whispered.

 

I smiled. Joy is exactly what I wished for him in the days, weeks, and years ahead. And a word I gladly would have embraced for myself.

 

He handed me his phone; he’d already looked up what Shoshin meant. As I read the words, a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions flooded my bacony brain. 

 

Shoshin, a Japanese phrase meaning beginner’s mind. An attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.

 

My first thought was: Is this some kind of spiritual joke? My second thought was: Is that even possible? 

 

I generally pull off a can-do attitude. But openness? Lack of preconceptions? I am a person built on intuition. I’m likely to give people and situations the benefit of the doubt, but right underneath is a tiger, ready to pounce. To clean up the inevitable mess that I see everywhere as I plot through my day. 

 

Not to mention, I just had a birthday—a milestone one—that comes with a lot of life baggage better known as experience. What was the point of experience without the accompanying shorthand of quick judgments?

 

I dropped the little blue card in my purse, and the service continued. But I couldn’t shake the word and the feeling that Shoshin, along with breakfast, was exactly what I was craving.

 

Being at the beginning again was almost unimaginable. Was it even possible this late in the game to recognize the familiar patterns of wasted time or impending defeat—and believe that a new outcome could rise? One that I never could have imagined or feared?

 

Fear lived right alongside my new “no self-improvement” philosophy if I was being honest.

 

Could beginner’s mind be the pursuit of living without the panic that came with all the experience? Could I face the day with a maybe or even yes attitude, no longer burdened by the obvious patterns of predictable disappointment?

 

Like the latest software upgrade at work that we were expected to embrace even though the upsides were “in the cloud” and all the very visible downsides lived with us as we scrambled to find our files and the smallest modicum of productivity.

 

Or the many, many exciting strides I’d made in my first passion—writing—that yet again, recently had resulted in a publishing cul-de-sac, and not the scenic kind.  

 

How would someone with beginner’s mind approach those scenarios? 

 

To the software update, Shoshin might say:

“A software upgrade means future capacity for productivity! So what if right now you can’t send e-mails or find any documents? Pause = rest. And when I am finally back up and running, and way behind on every project, with an unrecognizable desktop…that’s when I’ll dig deep and search for questions—ones I don’t even know I should be asking—then listen with an open mind, never once thinking: Was any of this really necessary?!”

 

To the publishing disappointment, Shoshin might say:

“Trust! You’re getting closer, Holly! Rejection isn’t a no…it’s the universe passing the ‘you’re almost there’ baton. Of course, your stories will find their way into the world.”

 

The fact that I was contemplating the concept—even if I wasn’t crystal clear on what beginner’s mind truly meant yet—surprised me. I’d arrived a mere hour ago, resolute in my lack of resoluteness. 

 

Now I was leaving church wondering what would happen if I gave myself permission to view daily annoyances and hard-fought pursuits with more awe and less prediction? What if I trusted that I’d get there—without necessarily knowing where there even was?

 

The premise excited me—still does. 

 

 

 


 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”  
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970)