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Compassion is My New Mode of Operation

Kira Elliott Green Cabneit Kitchen

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen

Today I am learning how compassion is my new mode of operation. This morning I sat at my writing desk. It was cluttered with half empty mason jars of water and tea, small index cards scribbled with notes for different projects and crumpled tissues. The cats were relentless in their pursuit to sit in the morning sun slanting across the desk. There simply is not enough room for both of them on the desk. Lupe didn’t understand she can’t sit on the keyboard while I am typing, yet I am too much a softy, so I tried to make it work. I repeatedly stopped to pet her gently and tell her to move off the keyboard. All this did was make her move in closer to me. It was a losing battle. One I admit, I gladly welcomed the distraction. The words were not flowing this morning.

My plan was to get at least 6 to 8 hours of writing in today. I have multiple projects that I am working on and all of them have deadlines, which are fast approaching. I needed to stay focused and I was not only losing the battle with the cats but also Facebook and my honey, who came into my office, his coffee in hand wanting to hang out. I gladly turned from my computer and hung out. Even made an extra pot of coffee.

As I wrote last week, I have been struggling to show up to the page. The darkness of winter is wearing my soul thin. I am resisting the urge to berate myself for not getting more done, for hibernating the last month or so. I know from past experience that my writer self does not do well when my irate inner taskmaster starts barking orders and throwing me down the shame gauntlet. My writer self seeks for cover and retreats further away when this happens. The urge to snuggle on the couch with my kitty and binge watch The Fosters becomes almost impossible to resist.

So what do I need to coax my writer self to show up and write? Compassion, my new mode of operation.

Compassion and acceptance for where I am at in this moment. The older I get the more I realize compassion is not only the foundation of my writing practice, but for my whole life. It is how I actually get things done. I thrive in an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. This is bit counter intuitive in our culture which values a “no pain, no gain” attitude. But it is only when I am able to tell my inner taskmaster that, “Hey, it’s okay, I got this. You can go away,” am I am able to start to write.

And I often have to make bargains with my writer self too. Today it was, I will write for three hours this morning and then hang out with my honey (it’s the weekend for goodness sake), then write a few more hours, then go workout (yes, this is a reward for me). I told myself, I will get done what I get done—perfect is the enemy of done.

I did get some of what I had on my little to do list scribble on one of those note cards on my desk. Not all but most. I feel good about that and so I told my writer self I will go spend some quality time in the kitchen to make a special dinner. Shrimp and scallops simmered with garlic, basil and a triple blend of mushrooms served with kale, roasted eggplant and polenta.  Baked apples with almond flour biscuits for dessert.

The most important thing is I am not demanding, I am not focusing on what I should have done or all that needs to be done. I am simply showing up and guess what? The words flowed enough today. I feel connected to something larger than myself. Today it helped that I had deadlines but even when I don’t approaching myself and my writing with compassion always works better than not. Today compassion is my new mode of operation.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Proof of Seriousness by Nancy Peacock -I read this morning and it resonated deeply. Sometimes I feel like I am a failure or not serious enough about my writing because I am don’t attend all kinds of conferences or live a “writer’s life”. I needed the reminder that living a rich full varied life gives us material and insight for when we show up to the page.

Strong Offer Friday- Transform Terror Into Commitment and Entitlement Into Hope by Patti Digh. This talk by Laurie Foley is a must watch for everyone, at least I think so. The part about entitlement hit me hard. I don’t like to think of myself as feeling entitled to anything but I do feel entitled to a long life and that I will always be here for my son. Watch this now if you have not already.

Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most common Pieces of Writing Advice is Wrong by Daniel José Older- The problem with “rules of writing” is that they are generally based on a western work ethic of no pain no gain. They are based on a reality too few of us share. Yes, show up to the page as often as possible but don’t get bogged down in shame if you can show up each day. Here is permission to be human.

Bring Kindness to a Full Stop By Justine- This post reminds me to pause and remember what is truly important. Kindness and how can I be a Daymaker. What if everyday I tried to be a Daymaker? Now this is cultivating joy if I ever heard of it.

What If All I Want Is a Mediocre Life? by Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui- I simply fell in love this post. It says it all. Why am is my life as it is not good enough? Why do I strive so much? Do I really want to be a superstar?

P.S. You might also like Endless Amounts of Compassion, Compassion for the Young Woman I Was and Allowing Space to be Sad

I invite you to sign up for my mailing list to get monthly Open Hearted letters (plus many extras like secret videos!) + access to my Open Hearted Writing mini ecourse. Sign up HERE!  

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Giving Your Heart a Place to Open

Kira Elliott Tea time

“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.” ― Brenda Ueland

The birds are beginning to awaken even though it is still dark outside. In a few minutes I am going to settle on my black meditation cushion and listen to the stillness of the morning. Even though it has been a warm winter (thank you El Nino) and small buds are beginning to appear at the tips of branches, winter is still with us. The landscape is varying shades of grey and brown. Everything is flat and dormant. The furnace continues to click on and roar to life every 15 minutes or so. Yet I also hear the softness of a single mourning dove cooing up on the roof that will soon turn into multiple birds of different varieties singing for the joy of more sunlight and warmth. Paying attention to the shifts of the seasons is my morning prayer in some ways. It is how I hope—I start my days slow and pay attention.  

Hope is also cultivated when I show up to the page and my words flow with ease and grace. Expect when they don’t, because sometimes I struggle to show up. Yes, we are on the backside of winter. Yes, we are gaining more sunlight each passing day. But there is still more darkness than light. After months of darkness and limited movement outside, I feel internally like a light switch is stuck in the off position. I struggle to rouse the motivation and enthusiasm to show up for my writing and other creative projects. It takes all my energy to show up for my day job and the basics in my life.

I am hibernating and I struggle with allowing myself the space to know this is okay. I struggle with allowing myself to let go of the inner critic that tells me it is useless to show up and try to write. That tells me it is useless to write. I know from years of experience that showing up to the page and writing will grant me safe passage through this darkness. Writing reduces my suffering, it always does.

If this was happening to a good friend I would say to her, meet yourself where you are at, go gently with kindness and compassion, but show up to the page—write. When you do this you are giving your heart a place to open.

But how do we do this? How do we keep showing up and creating (no matter what that is, writing, living, painting, you name it) when anxiety is constricting our bellies so much we can’t take a deep breath? Or the fear pushes every thought or word out of our minds and we are left with foggy brain? Or the winter doldrums are weighing us down, stealing every ounce of enthusiasm?

It is hard to show up and write when the resistance and fear is so strong. When the pull to hibernate and burrow deep inside is compelling. I can say from experience it does get easier, but you have to show up with compassion and kindness for yourself and your writing or other creative work. You have to be willing to release judgement of what comes out. Instead be willing to say thank you to yourself for the courage to write. Even if all you wrote was a recap of your week or how you felt about an upcoming meeting at work. It all does matter.

If we keep showing up, our heart will show up too. It might take awhile, but it will happen.

When I am in this space I use the prompt, What I really want to say…, to help start the flow of words. You may have been offered this prompt before, as many writers use it as a tool to dig in when stuck or the writing is shallow. If you are struggling too with winter depression or the motivation to even start where you are at, try this prompt. Set a timer for 5, 10 or 20 minutes and just keep repeating, what I really want to say.

Something will shift, something will happen. It might not be brilliant. It might be whiny. It might be boring. I might be awesome. Who knows, it doesn’t really matter, the point is you are starting. You are creating space to write. You are giving a place for your heart to open.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

Meditation 101: A Beginners Guide by Happify- I love the clarity and playfulness of this short video about meditation. This video is good for those new to meditation and those who have been meditating for years. Even though I have practiced formal daily meditation for over 8 years, I still need reminders of the basics. About once a year I generally do a basics 6 week intro to meditation course. This keeps me grounded in the fundamentals.

What Are You Doing With Your Life by Liz Gilbert- This post really resonated with me. It helped me to gain clarity and acceptance about my hobbies, my job, my career and my vocation. I have a habit of trying to make everything I do fit into each one of these categories and well, that makes for a very stressful, cluttered and overstuffed life. If you haven’t read this yet, read it. Also, low and behold Liz Gilbert is coming to the Detroit area! I got my ticket and if you live in the Detroit area I would love to meet you there. Find more information HERE.

In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore- So if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time you know how much I struggle with slowing down. I have to say after watching this I realize that over the last two years, I have slowed down a lot. I still tend to over fill my life with doing but I am making significant progress.

What Can You Do to Get Through a Crap Week? by Dr. Mike Evans-  I love, love, love this video. Taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to be complicated. It really is basic. I sometimes feel like a broken record when I talk about self-care because I am not doing anything inventive but it is hard to show up for the basics sometimes, it seems like there should be more to do. So get enough sleep, eat wholesome food, move your body and do something you enjoy.

What Cats Are Really Thinking by Talking Animals- In my efforts to cultivate more joy this year, I am endeavoring to watch more cat, baby and other fun videos. I was laughing so much at this. It is good to intentionally cultivate well being.

Finally, I am excited for Pauline Agnew 4 week Pathways to Abstraction painting class this March. I have always wanted to take one of her classes but have always told myself I didn’t have the time or I was taking too many other classes. Anyone else thinking about taking this class? Let me know. It is always better to have a partner or two when taking a class, even an online one. (I am not an affiliate. I love her work and I have heard really good things about her.)

P.S. You might also like Personal Writing is Making My Heart Hum, Inspiration to Open Your Writing, or Compassionate Writing Practice

I invite you to sign up for my mailing list to get monthly Open Hearted letters (plus many extras like secret videos!) + access to my Open Hearted Writing mini ecourse. Sign up HERE!

 

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Favorite Blog Posts of 2015

Kira Elliott Connection

We need to bridge our sense of loneliness and disconnection with a sense of community and continuity even if we must manufacture it from our time on the Web and our use of calling cards to connect long distance. We must “log on” somewhere, and if it is only in cyberspace, that is still far better than nowhere at all.” ― Julia Cameron, God is No Laughing Matter

An ice storm is pushing in from the southwest and the wind is picking up, rattling the gutters and downspout on the house. My fingertips are cold as I write, stopping every few minutes to hold a cup of hot green tea. I am off work this week and I am moving slow.

I am gifting myself with unscheduled days. Time to watch a candle flicker. Time to lay under a stack of quilts and read a book for fun and delight. Time to lay on the bed in the dim light of a gray afternoon and pet my cat Lupe, who is curled into herself with her paw covering her face to keep warm. Time to just do nothing.

This time off has also given me space to review what I have written over the last year on my blog. I find it interesting that every year a certain theme arises from my writing. I don’t  plan these road maps to my heart. These themes are what I am processing in my daily life. The first year I blogged I wrote about grief and my relationship to the loss of my son’s father. I grappled with how on earth to keep living when I felt so heavy and dead inside. The second year was about slowing down and the realization that I was addicted to doing and overworking. This year I was surprised to see that my emerging theme is not only a continuation on slowing down but exploring the root of over doing—the multiple ways I don’t feel good enough.

I don’t plan my blog posts. I sit down and start with what is in front of me—the weather, how I feel in my body, what is heavy in my mind or heart. I continually ask myself, what is it I really want to say? Is this truthful? And most importantly, I ask myself, how is this helpful to others?

I always feel a bit startled, or like I stumbled on a new discovery each time a I write a blog post, even though I seem to be writing about the same topic over and over again. I think this is because each time I write I look at the topic or feelings from a different perspective, sometimes only a slight change in perspective but still a change.

I am beyond thankful for others who write or create other work that expresses and explores the interior of their lives. I am able to know I am not alone and celebrate the strength of our hearts. Writing my blog is my way of saying thank you for showing up and here is my gift to you. I often think of my blog posts as corresponding letters to other women on the path to living an open-hearted life. They are like flaming red flares shot high up in the air to let others know they are not alone, and to be honest, to let me know I am not alone.

All I can say is thank god for the internet. I am not sure where I would be without the connections it has afforded me. I am so thankful for the internet and the ability to find my kindreds.

Here are some of my favorite blog posts of 2015

My Essential Wild Self

Grief is Hard Work

Gifts Beyond My Control

Outwitting Not Good Enough

If My Body Could Speak

Hungry Ghosts of Not Good Enough

Play is a Foreign Land 

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

One of the number one things I hear from readers is they want to write more, they know how nurturing it feels to give themselves that space yet life demands keep invading.

Nourishing the Self By Finding the Time to Write by Sarah Hackley- Here is a gentle post about finding and giving ourselves the time and space to write with compassion and grace.

The Art of Submission, Submitting to the Work by Emily Lackey- I love love love this post. It questions the idea of the being a “real” writer at the “real writers table”. Is my writing only worthwhile if I publish in certain literary magazines? I think not.

Honor Your Reality by Gabriela Pereira- Here is a wonderful Podcast episode of DIY MFA to remind us to let go of the shoulds and false notions of how real writers work. I know for myself, I only get work done when I accept that I can write maybe a half hour a day most days a week. I have a full busy life and that life feeds my writing. The trick for me is letting go of the idea I have show up between 5 am and 8 am every day or else. What is your reality?

An Open Letter to Friends and Family: I Am Surviving by Shawna Ayoub Ainslie- If you struggle with anxiety, or know someone who struggles with anxiety, read this now. This is a good description of what it feels like to live with chronic anxiety. 

Boredom Can Be Beautiful by Sandra Pawula- Once again Sandra beautifully explores how slowing down, doing less is healing and healthy. Do you feel terrorized by boredom? Read this.

Registration for Writing to Open Your Heart is open. If you are looking to start the New Year writing with a wonderful group of women, go check it out. Early Bird pricing is only $200 for the 8 week workshop.

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Awesome Books of 2015 (at least a few)

Kira Elliott 2015 Favorite Books

Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King

This is happening now. It is early Sunday morning, quiet and dark. The cats are still sleeping, Lupe curled up at the foot of the bed, Riggins on the couch in the living room. I turn the hallway light on as Jay, still asleep in the bed, lightly snores and I creep back into the bedroom to my side of the bed. There on the floor is a large basket overflowing with books. These are books, magazines, and literary journals I have read over the last few months when I go to bed. I admit there is nothing sweeter or makes me more giddy with joy then getting into bed at the end of the day, or sometimes in the middle of the day, with a good book. Sometimes I am interested in a specific topic and I will collect a stack of books from around the house and then joyfully jump into bed. I am like a small child going to the doughnut shop on a Sunday afternoon.

The dim light from the hallway illuminates just enough to see as I start picking up each book from the basket and placing it on the bed. Soon my side of the bed is covered with books. I feel the recognition of an old friend or a remembered conversation with each one I pick up. I resist the urge to sit on the edge of the bed, open a book and start reading. My plan is to select three or four of my favorite I have read in 2015. I want scoop them all up in my arms and take to my office, but I select 10 and reluctantly tip-toed out of the room and turn off the hallway light.

Reading is more than a way to obtain new information or pass time. Reading for me is a balm for my soul.  Books are my best friends, mentors and wise sages.  I turn to books when I feel lonely, restless, confused or scared. I have a house full of stacks of books spilling onto the floor because the many bookcases I own are already filled with books. Reading the words of others connects me to something outside of myself and helps to bring order to my sometimes chaotic world.

It is an impossible task to pick just one best of 2015 book, I think it is impossible to select a best of anything. Each book is different and each resonates for different reasons and different needs. So below is a list some of the books that stood out or resonated with me in 2015. This is not a complete list, as I am sure I am missing many.

Awesome Books of 2015 (at least a few)

Writing As A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo- So I resisted reading this book for a super long time. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to read yet another writing book. I needed to write not read about writing, yet I picked it up on recommendation from a friend and holy crap it is not what I thought. First, it is a well researched book with tons of illustrations of how other writers use writing as a way of healing. Ms. DeSalvo’s prose is like being cradled in a hammock on a warm summer day. I learned so much and most importantly, I learn about how to care for myself while writing about difficult topics. My copy is tabbed, dog-eared, and annotated.  A reference book I return to again and again.

The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo- So after reading Writing As A Way of Healing, I had to read this book. Again, I was not disappointed. It is the same well researched and gentle prose as her other book. I am learning more about the writing process of others and thinking about my own process as a writer. I am figuring out what I can do to set myself up for sustained writing. One of my biggest takeaways is it is okay to take my time. If I write only a paragraph (as I did yesterday) that is fine, it is good to let things simmer. Also, the idea of keeping a process journal is so helpful. I highly recommend both of her books. I will reread both of these books for many years to come.

It should be mentioned that my reading wish list grew tremendously reading both of Ms. DeSalvo’s books from the many references she provides.

Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa- This is another book I resisted buying and reading. I first heard about this on NPR driving home work and I had to go check out the book. This is another well researched book about the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (as measured by ACE Scores) and adult illness. Many scientific studies are sited and Ms. Nakazawa interviews multiple experts in neuroscience, immunology and other fields.

As someone with a high ACE score (9 out of 10, which stunned me but didn’t really surprise me) I was reluctant to read this book because I didn’t want to read about more bad news or what is wrong with me, or could be wrong with me. Yet, this book also offers concrete practices that can offset high ACE scores, such as expressive writing, mediation and body movement like yoga—all practices that are the foundation of my self-care. A fascinating book well worth the read.

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. by Brene Brown, PhD. LMSW- Oh, I love every book written by Ms. Brown. Her work has literally changed my life by giving me tools to not hide in deep shame. Rising Strong helps me know I am not alone and helps me gather the courage to keep showing up. It gives me permission to own my story, which is not always so easy. It gives me courage to be me, all messy and falling apart, and awesome and joyful. I also have this on audio and Ms. Brown is the narrator, which is so awesome.

The Mother Knot: A Memoir by Kathryn Harrison- I am speechless. This is not only a beautifully written book but it is so powerful. Ms. Harrison provides us with unflinching honesty about motherhood, rage, the difficulty of forgiveness and self-harm. She was able to put into words so many difficult emotions and experiences of my own. I find courage within to continue my writing path reading this beautiful little book.

If You Find Me: A Novel by Emily Murdoch- I don’t read a lot of fiction because when I do I stay up all night and can’t put it down. After reading this I think I need to read more fiction. I was blown away by this heartbreaking story of two young girls kidnapped by their meth head mother to live in the backcountry in Tennessee. This is a story of forgiveness, redemption with beautiful vivid descriptions. It is heartbreaking and I cried a lot.

There are so many more awesome books I read this year, like Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Excavation by Wendy Ortiz, There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber, The 10 Letters Project by Jen Lee and Tim Manley or What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas. Too many to list really.

What books are on your Awesome Books of 2015 list?

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

This One Simple Writing Practice Can Powerfully Strengthen Your Yoga Practice by Jackie Johansen

Empathy Is A Moral Issue by Sharon Salzberg

Mindful Listening by Gil Fronsdal

How the Literary Class System is Impoverishing Literature by Lorraine Berry

Writing and Drawing Comics E-Course by Summer Pierre (If you have ever wanted to learn more about creating comics, here is an awesome opportunity)

And finally, registration is open for the the Winter 2016 Writing to Open Your Heart workshop. We start on January 13, 2016. I would love write start 2016 writing together. You find more information HERE and let me know if you have any questions HERE.

 

P.S. You also might like Books I Am Currently Reading, My Favorite Books, and Books That Nourish My Heart

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November Play

Kira Elliott November Play

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung

The bare trees outside my window sway in the bright blue sky. A brisk wind is blowing scattering the remaining leaves across the lawn. It is the day after three days of relentless rain, fierce winds and colder temperatures. The transformation of one week is stunning. It is like wind blew away summer and early fall.

Outside, the trees are stark. The golden and red vibrant color palette of fall is now browns and grays. Inside, the furnace clicks on every hour or so. I have found my slippers from the back of closet to keep my feet warm on the ceramic tile floor. I packed my summer pajamas away and now I sleep in soft sweatpants and oversized long sleeve tee shirts. Cups of hot peppermint tea are never far as I sit and write.

It is bundle up time. I also feel that internal need to start new projects as the season unfolds and makes way towards the end of the year. For many this means participating in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo happens every November where thousands of writers around the world support each other to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It is an amazing experience.

I used to participate in NaNoWriMo and I reached the goal of 50,000 words 3 times. NaNoWriMo stretched me and taught me how to push through my resistance. I learned not to believe my doubts about my ability as a writer. I learned I could show up daily and write. I loved the structure and support of NaNoWriMo. I loved being able to reach my word count daily. I experienced a ton of satisfaction from the achievement. And then it became another thing I had to do. It became yet one more way to prove I was good enough. All the joy was drained out.

So the last three years I have opted to not participate because I am trying to learn how to do less not more (I wrote about this here and here). I am learning how to approach my creative efforts with joy and ease and not the heavy hammer of striving to prove I am good enough. This is hard uncomfortable work.

Honestly, while NaNoWriMo takes a ton of work and pushes me into uncomfortable places, it is easier do it than not to do it. Pushing myself to the edges of my capacity, making myself do more than I need is pretty damn comfortable. I know how to operate from a place of overworking and striving. It is harder for me to not participate in NaNoWriMo and more uncomfortable for me to see what I can’t do, rather than push myself to see what I can.

Learning to play is something that makes me uncomfortable. As I wrote about last week, learning to cultivate more play and rest in my life is super hard, and I know it is important if I want more joy and ease in my life. Playing or doing things for fun—for no purpose (the idea of which always takes my breath away) is something that will stretch me and make me grow like NaNoWriMo did so many years ago.

So instead of pushing myself with NaNoWriMo, I am starting November Play (follow along and participate if you like on Instagram—use #novemberplay). For the month of November I am going to do one small thing each day to cultivate play in my life. One small thing, or sometimes a bigger one if I have the time, I do for fun—for no purpose—but because it is delightful. No pressure, no striving but rather a reminder to play a little each day. I have to admit, this feels daunting to me, this feels like a stretch.

This morning I baked apples with almond flour biscuits. I love to cook and yet I often don’t allow myself to spend time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. I tell myself I don’t have time to mess around in the kitchen, or if I am going to cook it better something super healthy or not make me fat (a whole other issue). The scent of apples baking with cinnamon made house cozy and warm. The almond flour biscuits were so yummy with the hot saucy apples. Most importantly I had fun making them.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

From a Dark Place by Monica Mercer – After losing his sight, an artist’s journey to reinvent his life is a lesson in overcoming obstacles. This is a fascinating story about learning to work within limitations.

Embrace the Shake by Phil Hansen- Wow, I loved this TED talk. Not only is Phil’s art beyond amazing but his curiosity and wonder is inspiring.

Begin Again: How Yoga Unlocks the Writer Within by Dani Shapiro- Moving my body is major part of my writing practice. It is how I metabolize what I have written or figure out what I need to write. After writing for a few hours, I often I get up and do 10 sun salutations.

Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason by Tim J. Lawrence- I learned how utterly painful and dismissive these words can be after my son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy over 20 years ago. Well meaning people would tell me everything happens for a reason or God doesn’t give you more than you handle. All these platitudes did was dismiss my pain, grief and fear. They isolated me and my son. I love the line, “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” So true, so true.

The Time is Now from Poets and Writers– Here is a helpful resource of weekly writing prompts and other inspiration from Poets and Writers. Super cool.

May your coming week be filled with moments of delight and ease. ~ Kira

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