Posts Tagged ‘gentle’

gumption style charm

My one little word for 2016 is gumption.

Since 2010, I’ve been choosing a word to focus on each year: to guide me, to lead me into new places, and (sometimes) to spark needed change in my life. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that brave, my word for 2010, had an especially powerful impact on me. (I still wear it around my neck, and I feel like I talk about it all the time.)

Last year’s word – quiet, unobtrusive and much needed – was gentle. Throughout an often difficult year, I spent a lot of time practicing gentleness with myself and others. I was ready for a more active word for 2016, but I was surprised when gumption sneaked in.

I first read about gumption in Anne of the Island, where Aunt Jamesina teasingly refuses to define it for Anne’s friend Philippa, saying that “anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is.” Even at eight or nine years old, I sort of knew what she meant. I figured gumption was a combination of common sense, intelligence and spunk. (I even refused to look it up, thinking that would be cheating.)

When The Holiday came out a few years ago, I fell immediately in love with Kate Winslet’s character: sweet, bookish Iris, who travels to L.A. over Christmas to nurse a broken heart and begins to discover a whole new life. I especially love her relationship with Arthur Abbott, the retired screenwriter played by Eli Wallach, who says of his late wife, “She had real gumption. She was the girl I always wrote.”

I’ve watched The Holiday over and over, and I always love seeing Iris discover her own gumption – through Arthur’s wise friendship, the strong leading ladies he advises her to emulate, and her budding romance with film composer Miles. Near the end, when she finally tells off her toxic ex-boyfriend Jasper, I always want to stand up and cheer right along with her.

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Gumption is, of course, closely related to brave – but it strikes me as a little quirky, a little bit whimsical. It seems to bespeak an inner resilience – grit, yes, but also a lightness. A quiet confidence that it’s all going to work out. A willingness to say yes to new things and ideas. And a bit of sparkle.

I’m still in the middle of some uncertainty as 2016 begins, and I want to acknowledge that, but not to be ruled by fear. I want to face each day with courage and joy, common sense and pluck. I want to savor small pleasures and dream a little. Gumption seems to embody all those things – with a wink and a smile. I’m looking forward to where it might take me.

(Print from ACDShop on Etsy. I bought it for my mother last year and might be buying one for myself.)

Have you chosen a word for 2016 (or done this in the past)? If you have a word, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


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cafe lalo table berries teacup

This year, I chose gentle for my one little word. Or, more accurately, it chose me.

I’ve been choosing a word each year for a while now, and while I can’t ever predict how my choice is going to shake out, I always enjoy the process of following a word through the year.

Gentle, when it came to me, felt like a deep sigh of relief, a much-needed shift away from some frantic and critical habits I’d slipped into during a hectic few months. Also, as I said at the time, it felt like a good companion to brave, my word from 2010 which remains so important to me.

The circumstances of this year, as it turns out, have not been particularly gentle. I struggled through a record-breaking Boston winter, with bitter temps and frigid winds and so much snow. The gentleness in that season was mostly internal: nourishing myself with tea and soup, reading good books, doing lots of yoga, making an effort to dial back the criticism (often silent, sometimes verbal) of myself and others.

When the weather finally warmed up, I found myself facing another hard thing: the loss of a job I loved, and the subsequent months of networking, interviews and job hunting. That process has been, in a word, brutal. And it’s not entirely over, though I am grateful for a temp gig I’m loving, and for my ongoing freelance assignments.

With the job hunt, too, the gentleness has been mostly internal: doing my best work on a given day, and letting that be enough. Working hard to polish my resume or answer interview questions thoughtfully or compose yet another cover letter. And then taking a break, to cook dinner or meet a friend for coffee or curl up on the sofa with a book or a good TV show.

I have been reminded, over and over again, that I’m only human. I am capable, but I’m not Superwoman. I need rest and downtime and connection with the people I love. I need to ask for things once in a while. And often, I need to turn off the computer and go to sleep.

It has also been (I need hardly say) a tough year to live in this world. Headlines that provoke anxiety and terror, so many shouting matches that solve nothing, an increasing sense of the precariousness of this life. I don’t know what to do about that, except to keep lighting the candles I possess.

It’s an ongoing process, this gentleness with myself and others. But I’m glad this quiet, unobtrusive word has been my companion in 2015. I’m hoping to find a new word for 2016, but I think gentle will hang around a while, too.

Did you choose a word for 2015? If so, how did it go?

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parnassus books nashville

It’s no secret that I am a serious bookworm. I have a dedicated table for my to-be-read pile, a library holds list as long as my arm, and at least one stack of review copies waiting to be perused at all times. (Currently it’s two stacks.)

I read widely, and I like to think I read broadly. I love many different kinds of books, including (but not limited to) memoirs, mysteries, young adult and middle-grade novels, adult fiction (both general and literary), poetry, and popular nonfiction. My shelves on Goodreads are almost as full as my real-life bookshelves (which are bulging). I am always reading several books at once.

I have two English lit degrees, a constantly shifting calendar of review deadlines and a pretty good sense (I like to think) of what constitutes “quality” literature. So sometimes I think I “should” be reading only the high-quality stuff: shiny new literary fiction, classics that have stood the test of time, nonfiction books dealing with Important Ideas. And I do read all those things. But in the past couple of years – even before I chose it as my word for 2015 – I’ve noticed that I’ve always got at least one “gentle” book in progress.

What do I mean by “gentle” in this case? Sometimes “gentle reading” means a quiet, bucolic story, like Miss Read’s tales of village life, or the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Sometimes it’s a beloved book from childhood (I reach for The Long Winter every February). Sometimes it’s the next book in a favorite series, comforting because it deals with known characters or familiar territory. And sometimes it’s a totally silly “fluff” book – chick lit or a cozy mystery – that I choose not for its great writing, but for its fun and predictable plot. (I also can’t read anything too creepy before I go to bed – or I won’t be able to fall asleep!)

I still occasionally beat myself up about this tendency. Those reading hours are precious, and I do dedicate many of them to high-quality, often more demanding books. But sometimes I simply need to curl up with a good story whose main value lies in escape and entertainment. This week, for example, you can find me digging into Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (light mysteries set in 1920s England), and savoring Elizabeth Bard’s gorgeous second memoir, Picnic in Provence. (That one is gentle, but it’s so well written that it’s hardly a guilty pleasure.)

Do you read several books at once, too? Is there a “gentle” (or “fluffy,” or “guilty pleasure”) category in your rotation?

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slippers tea journal

Two weeks ago (give or take), my husband caught his annual spring cold. (He struggles with seasonal allergies, but this was a different animal altogether.) I plied him with tea and spicy soup, slept in the guest room for two nights to avoid the germs, and thought I was in the clear.

Last Sunday, I started coughing and sneezing. On Monday, I woke up feeling generally crummy. Yep: I caught the cold. And I still had to force myself to call in sick.

I always feel absurdly guilty taking a sick day if I’m not deathly ill – not battling a stomach bug or the flu or something more serious. This time, even though I felt awful, it really was just a cold. Did I need a sick day? Would my colleagues think I was a total wimp for staying home? Shouldn’t I just get dressed, trudge to the subway, and power through?

I looked at my work calendar. No meetings; no urgent deadlines. I had a dozen or more sick days stockpiled (since I take them so rarely). Plus, it was grey and cold outside. And I knew – and could hear my mother’s voice saying – that I’d get well faster if I stayed home to rest.

So I emailed my boss, turned off my computer, and crawled back into bed. (As J pointed out, my colleagues were probably grateful I didn’t share my germs with the entire office.)

The next day, I felt no better – if anything, a little worse. I debated with myself, called in sick again, and then proceeded to have a minor existential crisis. Could they get along without me at work for a couple of days? (Of course they could.) But if that’s true, is my work really that important? Am I doing anything truly worthwhile? Am I replaceable? Related: what kind of world is it where we have to apologize for taking care of ourselves? Why can’t we just admit it when we’re sick and need a little TLC?

(I do know that paid sick time is a privilege. My husband doesn’t have it, since he does fee-for-service therapy work. Believe me, I’m grateful to have sick days. I just tend to freak out a little bit about taking them.)

Once I decided to call in sick, though, I was able to slow down and take care of myself. I made a spicy chicken curry on Monday night, and chicken enchilada soup (in the Crock-Pot, lest you think I got too ambitious) on Tuesday. I’ve been mainlining tea and water and honey-lemon cough drops. I padded around the apartment wrapped in my robe and leggings, catnapping and reading (and coughing). I spent a couple of evenings curled up on the couch, knitting and watching Mary Tyler Moore.

I talk a lot about self-care and gentleness – but I’m not always good at practicing it on myself. (That’s part of the reason I chose gentle as my word for this year.) I get sick so rarely that I sometimes forget what it’s like to be forced to rest. And – though I could have done without the cough and congestion – I admit that it can be good to slow down, be totally unproductive, and take care of myself.

Last week, self-care looked like listening to my body: hot showers, fruit smoothies, lots of tea, propping myself up on an extra pillow at night (so I could breathe). It looked like stepping back from the to-do list and all the expectations I place on myself. And on Thursday, it looked like a glass of wine and a long chat with a friend after work (those re-entry days always feel extra-long).

This week, I’m easing back into my routine and taking it slow. And trying to remember – again – to be gentle with myself.

Do you struggle with self-care – even when you’re sick?


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purple crocus buds

Back in January, I decided my one little word for 2015 would be gentle.

After an intense, often difficult autumn, I wanted to slow down, take a few deep breaths, treat myself and others with a little more care. It’s so easy to channel the snark when I’m stressed, to snap at my friends and co-workers and husband instead of really listening to them. I wanted to step away from that, to value being kind and gracious over having the last (witty or sarcastic) word.

It has not (you may have noticed) been a gentle winter around here, weather-wise. The blizzards, the piles of snow, the piercing cold, are the opposite of gentle – they are brutal. The stress of daily life doesn’t slow down when the weather behaves like this; if anything, it gets compounded. But I have been trying my best to be gentle, with myself and with others. (As you can see below, it has involved lots of chai.)

red journal chai darwins

Being gentle has sometimes meant biting my tongue: just because a remark is true doesn’t mean it’s kind or helpful. Sometimes it means stopping myself from rolling my eyes. Sometimes it means listening when I don’t want to. I chose this word partly because I want to be a safe place for my friends and family. (The older I get, the more it matters to me that my friends are safe instead of cool or beautiful or witty.) Being gentle is sometimes – I admit it – a royal pain.

Being gentle also means giving myself a break. I do not have to eat all the vegetables, clean the whole apartment in a single evening, finish all the work projects in one day. I don’t have to like a book or TV show even if I feel I “should.” I tend toward high expectations for myself, which can lead to self-criticism and anxiety. So being gentle means dialing back the critical eye I sometimes turn on my own life. I’m only human.

I saw the new Cinderella movie with my mom and sister when I was in Texas, and while I loved the gorgeous costumes and sets, I especially loved the film’s central line: “Have courage and be kind.” Since brave is a vital word for me and gentle is my word for this year, that line felt exactly right.

If you’re following one little word this year, how’s it going?

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gentle and kindAs I said last week, my one little word for 2015 is gentle.

I’ve been choosing a word each year since 2010, when I chose brave and it ended up carrying me through (and inspiring) all sorts of changes. I ordered a silver pendant stamped with it (and a second one when I lost the first one), and I still wear it around my neck, next to my skin.

I’ve chosen other words since then – comfort, shift, attention and most recently, light. But brave has continued to resonate in my life – sometimes whispering, sometimes ringing like a deep gong.

Gentle can sometimes seem like the opposite of brave – it’s soft, unobtrusive, a word that slips in and sits down quietly instead of bursting through the door. But it’s what I need this year.

It has been (I keep saying) a difficult few months to live in this world. The headlines have been worse than usual. This fall brought some wonderful events – notably my trip to Oxford and the birth of my nephew – but it was also stressful. Family illness, a massive work event, and lots of other changes at the office left me exhausted. And honestly, the daily grind of commuting and cooking and church responsibilities – the relentless work of keeping up and taking care – also wore me down. (Not to mention the shouting matches that flare up online over the smallest things.)

Last month, Serenity wrote a post about questions and listening, and Felicity shared the advice she’d been giving her teenage son: “Just be gentle with everyone. Don’t try to be right or say important things. Just be gentle.” When I read that, something deep in me sighed: Yes.

I want to be gentle this year, with myself and other people. In the first case, it mostly means not beating myself up when I don’t live up to my own (often unreasonably high) expectations. In the second, it means listening to what people are saying (and often, to what they’re not saying) before I come back with a sharp-edged quip or a cutting comment. In a world that often values being right (or snarky) over being kind, I want to tip the balance back toward kindness. I want to be a safe place, for others and for myself.

Being gentle – less critical, more gracious – sounds wonderful, but I already know it’s not always easy. So far, it means thinking before I speak – a lot – and keeping a few good words in mind. And sometimes it means scrapping the to-do list, shutting down the Internet and going to bed early. (Because I am so much gentler and kinder when I get enough sleep.)

I had lunch with Carlee recently when I was in Texas, and we talked about our words (past and present) and what they’ve taught us. Several days later, she sent me the graphic at the top of this post. I like how it links my new word with my older word – because I believe they’re two sides of the same coin. This year, I’m working on being both brave and gentle.

Do you have a word for 2015? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

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