Conversation Has No Expiration Date
What I'm learning
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In this issue:
A few post-Thanksgiving thoughts
Results from the Spark Survey with my gratitude
Seeking: your top three reads from 2021
Photos from an earlier, dog-free time
The Best Conversations Never Really End
Well, I’ve been learning a lot from you all lately. If you missed some of the name stories relayed in the comments to last week’s newsletter, go back and check them out here. You’ll find drama, wishes, dreams, mysteries - parents who wished they were Irish, a mother who named her son the mirror image of his half-brother, a boy she’d known nothing about, people who took control of their own names with wonderful results. All of them reinforced for me the way names and identity can influence each other.
If you want to add your name story, please do -- there is no expiration date on this or any other subject that we cover here. Think about any conversation you’ve ever had -- haven’t you found yourself going over old ground with an old friend, or even a stranger - happy to be traveling a familiar route? What about those times when we haven’t seen someone for a long time and the conversations we started years back resume as if no time has passed? Then there are the times when we start out with ideas we know well only to find ourselves uttering the unexpected.
This happened the other day for me while my husband and I spent four hours in our kitchen preparing food to share with each other. We’d been ambivalent about the Thanksgiving meal. With just the two of us, we wondered how big a deal to make of it. We toyed with the idea of alternatives to poultry of any kind but my husband found a seven-pound turkey breast. I found enough wild rice in the cupboard to make a pilaf I remembered making once and liking. We had fresh cranberries for the sauce, apples for a crisp, and enough stuffing mix for two armies.
On Thursday we spent most of the morning with the sun streaming into our kitchen and creating aromas that may have cemented our new dog’s allegiance to us. We moved in a leisurely, unhurried way with no deadlines or worries about cleaning the house for company. We talked in much the same way -- easy, unhurried exchanges interrupted by silences when we each knew the other was remembering other Thanksgivings. We’d both come from families with large gatherings -- his with 30 or more people and two different dinners: American turkey and stuffing and Italian lasagna and antipasti, mine with siblings, friends and relatives and usually eating two meals, once in my mother’s house, and the other in my father’s. But once I hit adulthood, had jobs with limited vacation time, and got divorced myself - I spent many Thanksgivings alone.
“It was fun. I miss it. It still feels strange to have such a small holiday,” he said.
In the pause that followed, I could feel him remembering with both joy and sadness all the people now gone. Then, next to those feelings and his memories, my own kicked in. I realized I’d spent years battling expectations that arrive unbidden every holiday. My response has often been to minimize the holidays, to treat each of them like a normal day as much as I can. I spent years guarding against the feelings that come with missing people I love, with thinking things should be different than they are.
This year, though, in the space we gave each other to think, remember, and breathe, I remembered those years when it was just me in an apartment with a book, some Chinese food, maybe going to the theater by myself, and always a few self-pitying tears. I never told people I was going to be alone for the holiday. It felt like something to hide. There, in the kitchen, I told my husband about those times and then I told him that this is why the Thanksgiving we were having this year felt good to me. Yes, we both miss our people. But we had each other, the sun in the kitchen, and dog who made us laugh. I realized more deeply than I ever had that my battle with expectations has been about not wanting to be disappointed or hurt. This year there was far less battle and a lot more breathing it all in. I was grateful. I still am.
In other news…
I’ve also learned a few more things from you. Thanks to the many who took the time to fill out the Spark Survey, I have a clearer idea of what to keep doing, a sense of what to do less of, and where to focus going forward. I also have a bit of a swollen head from the lovely and very specific comments many of you offered about how you’ve appreciated this newsletter and how you look forward to Saturday mornings. A very special thank you for your support and some wonderful testimonials to share with future readers.
What to Continue
Based on your feedback, I’ll keep these little missives coming once a week even if you can’t read them right away. You can continue to expect:
Personal essays and stories, book recommendations, and links to articles, etc. that tie in to the general theme of that week’s newsletter or are just plain fun or interesting.
Interviews with writers and their dogs from time to time.
The “Moment of Zen” will continue to be a regular feature even if we skip a week now and then.
Thank you for being part of the SPARK community. What keeps you coming back? If you are new to SPARK, what drew you to check us out? Check all that apply.
In general, the newsletter is about the right length depending on the subject but no one would hate it if the newsletter ran a bit shorter. I promise to keep that in mind!!!
Live events once in a while
More ways for Spark readers to contribute their stories or thoughts in addition to Moment of Zen. For example, this idea (I loved it) -- a short (150 words or fewer) contribution from readers - an anecdote, observation, or something else
Help me figure out what to keep doing or stop doing that would add more value to to you as a reader and subscriber to SPARK. Just check either "Keep Doing" or "Stop Doing" for each item on the list below.
When it comes to what to add or try in the future, half or more of you who responded were either enthusiastic ( Yes) or open (Let’s give it a try) to:
Doing occasional in-depth book reviews
Featuring original short fiction
Providing regular links and resources for writers
Providing regular links and resources for book clubs
Having regular themed issues like last year’s “Cookbook Issue”
More opportunities to connect/interact with the rest of the community (discussions, events, group reads, other)
A good number of you were interested in essays contributed by other writers. When it comes to providing opportunities to pay writers for their work, Most were neutral or open to the idea.
Help me figure out what to start doing that would make SPARK more valuable to you and to people you know. For each item below, check YES, NO THANKS, LET'S GIVE IT A TRY, or, NEUTRAL (No strong feeling either way).
Over the next few weeks as we close out the year, I’ll be looking into ways to put these ideas into action next year. I’m excited about this. We won’t do them all at once. We’ll try, tweak, try again and at every step along the way, I welcome your feedback whether I send out a survey or not. If any of this has jogged any further thoughts among you, do not hesitate to put those in the comments or send them to me via email.
Let’s Build A Book List
Those end-of-year book lists are coming out soon. I’ve never published mine before even though I do keep track. I’m thinking about trying to do that this year. I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. Send me the titles of the 3-5 books you will remember most from 2021. These don’t have to be the ones you loved the most if they are the ones that stuck with you. No need to explain -- just list yours in the comments or send it to me and we’ll see what kind of year we’ve all had.
About the photos in This Issue
I used to start my mornings with a 2-4 mile walk. If I was lucky, I got to see the sun come up which always set my head straight for sitting at my desk and working the rest of the morning. Since Frida arrived, though, the route has shortened. She is learning this place and the training that works best is retracing the same small route around the block four-five times twice a day. We’re building up her confidence and it’s working but I miss the cliffs. So I went looking for some of the photos I took not long before she arrived and decided to share them in this week’s issue because I have no books or links to offer this time. Think of as taking a virtual walk together. Each one could be its own moment of Zen.
Here are the last few.
Thank you all. See you next week.
P.S. An now, one more moment of Zen - Power Outage
Calling for Your Contribution to “Moment of Zen”
What is YOUR moment of Zen? Send me your photos, a video, a drawing, a song, a poem, or anything with a visual that moved you, thrilled you, calmed you. Or just cracked you up. This feature is wide open for your own personal interpretation.
Come on, go through your photos, your memories or just keep your eyes and ears to the ground and then share. Send your photos/links, etc. to me by replying to this email or simply by sending to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main guidelines are probably already obvious: don’t hurt anyone -- don’t send anything that violates the privacy of someone you love or even someone you hate, don’t send anything divisive, or aimed at disparaging others. Our Zen moments are to help us connect, to bond, to learn, to wonder, to share -- to escape the world for a little bit and return refreshed.
I can’t wait to see what you send!
(And if you’ve gotten here, liked something, and still haven’t hit the heart below, now’s your chance! )