Visual Writing Prompts – Day 1

Hello, fellow time travellers!

Are you longing for a bit of a solitary creative refuge in the middle of this quarantine?

Many of us continue to remain holed up in our homes across the globe. These many weeks of solitude (or sharing space without any breaks) leave us struggling with our sense of peace each day.

One of the ways I work with my writing groups to help ease anxieties and create space right now is through flash fiction using famous artworks as inspo.

My obsession with beauty, passion for museums, and love of storytelling led me to it, and students have adored the combo.

So, in celebration of art, support of museums, and an offering of solitary creative space, I’ll be posting a visual writing prompt each day along with light instructions to help guide you in this sweet process.

To kick things off, let’s go with Thomas Cole’s The Journey of Life: Youth. I love this painting for its ethereal quality and room to create your own interpretation. It hangs in the American National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Be sure to take some time and linger on this beautiful painting in high definition and with a bit of historical context at: https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.52451.html

Instructions: Pick a character from the painting (or make one up) and lead them on a journey through it.

Things to consider: What do they discover? Who do they meet? Is there a conflict that makes this adventure a bit more exciting? Do they find what they thought they would?

Have fun writing! No pressure! No masterpieces needed! Just dream on paper. xo

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Pandemic Day 7 – A Devastating First Blow

Day 7: The first of many big blows.

I woke up this morning to find that my beloved yoga studio, Semperviva Yoga, has closed its doors permanently as a result of the financial devastation brought on by the coronavirus.

This is a crush to my psyche, as no place in my daily life provided me more relief and more growth as an individual on a spiritual journey. It was my temple, my community. On the mat, I dealt with a crippling major depression, recovered (it actually saved my life) from a devastating work situation and guided me on the path to founding my own writing academy. It was there where I met and cultivated some of the most important relationships in my life. And it is now gone.

What do I do?

I’m sobbing. I’m panicked. I’m rushing to reach out to the lovely women who are an intimate part of my circle, light bringers, spiritual guides who give all they have to bring us together on the mat. How do I recreate that community? How do I find my space? How do I do this on my own? How do I support them, make sure they can pay rent, feed their families?

I am stricken with devastation, immobilized, petrified that the landslide of loss has hit in real time.

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When I was a child, I had a recurring dream of me as a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who stood in the mirror. There, I lingered, fascinated by the single sparkling diamond of light that hung on a delicate chain around my neck.

For a moment, all was peaceful.

Then, from nowhere, a brown mass would flood in from the darkness and engulf me, smothering me until all of the light vanished and I could no longer speak.

I was silenced by a force beyond my control and left at the very edge of death, gasping for life but never fully dying.

I had it for years and years and only after my time on the mat did I begin to understand that it is the dream that represents my greatest fear, that I might end up voiceless and left to die without anyone knowing.

It was, in fact, my childhood fear of abandonment and inability to provide for my own security while the people around me struggled to provide there own.

I know it as my metaphorical landslide of loss and that little girl has risen up in me this morning, screaming to save her from the unknown.

I want to banish her, to get her the hell away from me because I can barely actually breathe right now, but I cannot. Her voice is my own. If I silence her, I deny myself.

I hear the voices from Beyond calling me to action right now, right here, to bolster a space that brings us the breath of life, to lift the voices growing quiet as the losses of the world flood in and overtake us.

If our temples, our churches, our synagogues were forced to close, we’d move to preserve them. Now is the time to fling the doors open and in the midst of loss let the light flood in, let the voices rise up.

For me, right now, it is about honouring that terrified little girl inside who cannot breathe, who believes herself to be at the edge of death with no hope.

In this moment, I am taking her hand and saying to her, “I see you, sweet girl. I feel all that you feel. I honour all that you fear. Now, as crone and babe, we walk together into this absolutely uncharted place in our lives. I cannot promise we will be safe from others. I cannot promise we will not face so much more in the wake of the world we once knew dropping away, calcifying, and re-emerging anew. However, I can promise you, sweet girl, that you are nowhere near death and the malignant mass threatening you from the darkness has no power over either of us. Baby girl, you are loved and never ever alone. Take my hand and let’s walk into this frontier as warriors together.”

(this spectacular piece of art is by Eva Campbell at https://evitaworks.com/)

Pandemic Day 6 – The Introvert’s Guide to Self-Isolation

Day 6: The teenager at our house ripped my face off yesterday.

Nearly a week into our quarantine, she is ready to slay dragons—and not in the way I prefer her to approach beast slaying.

Don’t get me wrong, lockdown in a small Vancouver apartment with four people who are cranky, scared, and not sure how bored bored can get is, well, slightly limiting.

However, when I say things to her like, “There are, legitimately, hundreds of books for you to choose in this house. Pick one and read it” I can confirm it results in outbursts that provoke horrors such as taking a teenager’s phone away for a few hours (God, no!), coping with the muttering irritation, and avoiding all contact with said teenager for at least an hour in order to keep from experiencing the Wrath of Khan.

Okay, I get it, I am not funny. So, I will stop trying to be. Here’s my point:

My big kid, she’s an extrovert. Her life revolves around her social activities and her tight friend group.

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Me, well, my social activities tend to involve building worlds and crying over the losses of characters who live in other universes. Not to mention, when it comes time to slay dragons, I make sure I’m only out dealing with the ones who have it in for the human race. Dragons are cool. We should proceed in the slayer department with prudence. If you need a cool weapon, though, I got you.

This lock-down is challenging her beyond all comprehension.

We’ve all seen the jokes and memes that are now slightly tired. Introverts have been preparing for the moment when they rise as superior self-isolators. We are, I will tell you, superstars at it. I’ve worked from home for most of the last 14 years. I feel like what I am about to share with you qualifies as Ph.D.-level introvert advice to those of you who actually like to interact with other people.

1. It is okay to find yourself batshit crazy one day and in need of extreme amounts of human contact.

Even introverts (gasp) require some amount of stretching out into the world. So, we see you and know your pain.

How we do it: SKYPE, Zoom, Discord, FaceTime. Yes, that’s right, we don’t actually go see people. We clip our hair back, wash our face, put on a socially acceptable shirt, and jump on a call to talk about whatever.

I’ve seen Maggie Tai Tucker do a virtual waffle-off with a friend.

Matthew Ramadan and Danny Ramadan did a video on how to make self-isolation margaritas.

My sweet friend Lee Ann Mordecai Steyns is hosting FB Live sign-language classes for kids.

I hook up with my writing partner every week to share pages, talk about our novels, and keep each other motivated to keep telling stories.

2. DO NOT sit on the couch or at your desk the whole time.

Oh mah ghad, people. If there is one thing introverts know, it is that your body will begin to ache and cry out for you to get up off of that couch at about hour 24. Yes, I realize that is a lot of hours and I’m making poor attempts at humor again. However, watching every episode of The Man In The High Castle, Witcher, Outlander, The Walking Dead, Westworld, maaaaay actually result in you wishing you’d made much better choices when your ass is killing you and your back has staged a full revolt.

Introverts know this because, well, we regularly repeat this regretful mistake and then HAVE to spend every day at the yoga studio for a month to repair a 60-episode TV or three-book series reading binge. EVERY DAY. I hope you understand how much human contact that is for an introvert.

There is this thing called YouTube. It has exercise videos, dance videos, music videos. We introverts strongly recommend you find the one you like and hop around in your underwear for a while. We do it all the time (no one knows this because we don’t see anyone). Every third show, take a break and move.

3. Beware of the snacking monster.

One of the strange, unexplainable consequences of modern boredom is that we get all food crazy. When people who move a lot start to get into quiet spaces, snacking comes into play big-time.

Not all introverts are snacking experts. However, I can attest to many a day where I’ve not left my desk other than to gather the pretzels or the cheese or mix drinks. Oh the list goes on.

I can also attest that you will not spot how this is impacting you until you peel the pajamas you’ve been wearing for three weeks straight off of your body and try to put your cute jeans back on. You get my drift, right?

Solution: Consider why you are eating. Also, consider that if you eat all of your snacks now, you are snackless for many weeks to come unless you have the great urge to go to Safeway in the middle of all of this. This could play in your favor, I realize, in that a lack of self-moderation means you HAVE to not snack later. Your choice though. No judgement.

4. I mean this with all sorts of love, don’t be aimless.

Aimless introverting has resulted in many a solitary human not dealing with life well. We all need goals, and if your aim is to watch as much TV as you can for the next few weeks, excellent. Just set that goal for yourself and give it your best go.

There’s a whole lot of talk out there about exploring the quiet and letting yourself be bored and giving yourself a chance to slow down.

I am all for that.

However, I also know that five days into letting myself freeform through life is also a personal recipe for slipping into major depression. Once there in the midst of a psychiatric episode, it is much harder to cope with everyday life, much less a pandemic.

Solution: Know yourself well enough to know what you need every day to keep upright.

For me, I follow this strict routine:
1. GET DRESSED. I do not linger in my pajamas because it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. This comes from YEARS of working at home and finding that a morning routine helps me focus and center myself. Fresh clothes and looking in the mirror at a put-together human is personally very soothing.

2. MAKE LISTS. Even if it is a list that involves basic daily chores, I write them down and check them off. Again, I accomplished something even if it was just doing laundry.

3. MAKE YOUR BED. This is a big one for me. I make it every day, sometimes it is the only thing I get done around the house. It’s a psychological trick that works.

4. DRINK WATER. I know, this sounds like every other post, but I swear this matters more than you can imagine. If I didn’t alternate my coffee with water, I’d be out slaying more than dragons.

5. OPEN THE CURTAINS. We are not cave-bound. Let the light in. You need it right now.

Okay, that is my speech.

Go rise, extroverts. We introverts have your back.

Pandemic Day 5 – Self-Compassion

Day 5 – I cant. I just can’t today.

My dreams all night last night were about losing our house, our livelihood, our children. One was sick and we were hiding the news. One was defying us and making all kinds of other people sick. Our car fell into a bog. Our house was in the car. Our lives had disintegrated with nothing but our own grit remaining.

IRL: Q woke up in the middle of the night, frantic. Shouting. Terrified that she’d poured a virus onto our couch.

M cried herself to sleep, worried that her friends would forget her and she’d return to school, someday, alone.

Ken and I grapple with the news coming out of every corner, our own potential exposure. We waffle between dark and light, doom, smart preparation, and trying to create some sense of ease.

We high-fived ourselves for taking a walk in the dark last night and surviving our first adventure in the Zombie Apocalypse. It seemed funny, but my head instantly went to infected zombies forcing their way through our front door. I hate zombies. Have always seriously feared them without any reason.

Now . . .

Deep breaths, I see you. May each moment I choose to pause and breath offer space and ease. Thank you for the blessing.

Morning tea, I see you. I feel you comfort and routine. Thank you for the blessing.

The sun. I see you and find myself basking in your loyalty. Thank you for the blessing.

Comfortable home and health of my wee tribe, I see you. I set the wards and make the bread we break. Thank you for the blessing.

My work, that I can do from home. I see you. Let me be of service to all who need it. Thank you for the blessing.

Fear, I see you. I acknowledge you from a place of love for the people around me. That love creates worry for their well-being. That worry creates whatever I allow it to. Let it not be the paralysis with which I contend this morning. Thank you for the blessing.

The need to provide solutions, and the panic of being unable to control things, I see you. I ask myself where I can be of service, and work to place my efforts there. I am one being who can serve best in one way. Thank you for the blessing.

Nightmares, I see you. May you be the way my mind rids itself of its own irrationality. Thank you for the blessing.

I can. I just can, today, hold compassion for myself and others.

Go rise, beauties. Take it easy on yourselves. It’s really scary out there.

Pandemic, Day 4 – Spontaneous Solidarity

Day 4: I have no idea, honestly, what provoked me.

In the last few days, I’ve strived to lessen my intake of pandemic rhetoric. (BIV Publisher Kirk LaPointe has an excellent editorial on how one of the gifts of all of this is the opportunity to spark a misinformation eradication mission here: https://biv.com/…/covid-19-crisis-should-spark-misinformati…)

That’s when it happened.

There I was, scanning the headlines, trying to avoid anything that appeared to pontificate on who is to blame and why we should hate someone new, and a piece about how travel start-ups are surviving this downturn caught my eye. I get that being sick is what most people are focused on. My mind, however, dwells not on the virus so much as the global economic crisis spurred on by it.

The article felt neutral enough to wade into without worrying about amplifying my anxiety.

So, I read on.

There they were, GetYourGuide. My own familiarity with the name surprised me. I had no idea they were a Berlin-based travel start-up company. What I did know is that when I became travel-obsessed over France, and then Spain, GetYourGuide was everywhere I wanted to be. They had cool side trips, meet-ups, interesting excursions, a great website, walking tours, lots of great ways for me—the mid-life woman who travels sans companions—to dive in and explore a place with a knowledgeable guide at my side.

The article was the neutral oasis I’d hoped for and proved very interesting. It touted financial prudence in business and how, through that restraint shown early, all three companies in the article turned their sales teams into customer service teams to manage the onslaught of cancellations and display strong confidence that they can withstand the significant downturn.

This is getting a bit political and slightly preachy. So, I will retreat back to my purpose here. My share is not about the places you access information or being smart in business. This, my dear ones, is about small acts of love in unexpected places.

All I could think about after reading the article was how the folks at companies such as GetYourGuide must be at the very end of their wits. Their mental health must be teetering. Their teams fight the fires of people, in the midst of sickness and worry, possibly loss of income and stability, also watching their sacred investment of money set aside for the most-necessary break from daily life disappear with little chance of recovering it.

So, I went to the website and began to type.

Let me be clear, I’m a realist and aware of why GetYourGuide tugged at my heart. I’ve got a huge chunk of cash wrapped up in what I believe to be the start of my annual solo adventures. This October, it is meant to be Spain. Will I be able to go? Who knows. However, I’m planning on it unless circumstances demonstrate the trip to be foolish.

I also want to be clear that travel isn’t something I take as an indulgence or a fancy. I waited almost 50 years to do it out of fear. To me, after France, it became the blood in my body. It manifested into the breath of my life. It is the embodiment of my independence, my sovereignty. It takes on a presence as my companion through the ongoing process of opening myself to all that I do not yet know.

Managing my emotions surrounding the potential loss of it in the midst of just finding it is pretty damn visceral. However, I’m confident that, if not this year, I’ll eventually be back on the road more devoted than ever to exploring.

I wanted to share my faith in tomorrow, for just a moment, with these folks who I’ve never met, whom I am confident don’t know the CEOs, who probably make $12 an hour to serve as customer service rep/counselors/keepers of the dreams.

So, I wrote:

Hi folks.
I just read a story about GetYourGuide and how you are managing the coronavirus outbreak.
I just wanted to send love and support to all of you.
I still have a major trip planned for October of this year and my plan is to show some big love to GetYourGuide when it comes time to book tours to places.

Standing in solidarity.
Robin Rivers

I received this response:

Dear Robin,
Greetings from GetYourGuide!
Your feedback is important and appreciated.
We humbly send you our gratitude and for putting a smile on our faces. You are a blessing!
Have a wonderful day and stay safe!

Kind regards,
Ann
GetYourGuide Support

Even if it was just the lovely Ann who saw it, wow. What a moment of sharing good energy.

So, let this time be one where we reach out to strangers and give them a bit of ease. Show the love, remind them and ourselves that life will come back online. Everything right now is forcing us to change, to let go of what we thought was going to happen, to consider our own expectations and how we navigate disappointment in order to recalibrate. None of us can force the wheel of daily life back into place, but we can show love.

Go rise to the challenge of it all. Send a note to a random stranger about something you admire happening in the midst of this.

It matters.

New Glasses

That first day I sat in the big, fake leather chair at the eye doctor’s office, my little spirit shook.

At age 6, I couldn’t see the board at school. Typical. In my heart, though, I knew.

My eyes. Oh, my eyes.

Twice, sometimes three and even four times a year, I sat in that same chair as the world around me blurred in more dramatic ways.

“She could lose her sight,” I heard the doctor once say.

Somewhere around age 10, though, the doctor visits slowed. No one explained why. In my heart, though, I knew.

I wouldn’t lose my sight, but spend my life deeply obligated to my glasses and the health of my eyes.

In the years that followed, dozens of pairs of glasses came and went. I treated each eye doctor visit as self-care and fell in love with the routine of making sure my peepers got top-shelf treatment.

Graduating into progressives three years ago, I knew the annual glasses replacement would have to slow (they are damn expensive).  My last pair took a beating, literally on life support for the last few months.

So, when it came time to level up my prescription, I found that thrill of picking out the new pair and taking care of mes yeux rushing back.

Here are the results.

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Slow Travel

I’ve been circling around this concept of slow travel a lot lately.

It’s not shocking to anyone who has spent literally even one day with me that I am a bit of a doer. Chilling is not my thing.

I’ve got lists and then lists for the lists.

I survive on accomplishment alone.

It’s my insecurity, I get it.

To do is to have a purpose. To chill is to, well . . .

Yet, upon reflection, I’ve begun to understand how my urge to do, do, and then do some more is based almost entirely in the fear that I will somehow be thought of as less, miss out, that I only get one shot at things, and that everyone else is staring at me thinking I’m an idiot unless I am superwoman mounting the to-do list like the queen of everything.

This leads me to France and THIS ARTICLE from Quartzy.com.

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I am taking myself to France in October to, well, chill.

No, do.

No, chill.

No, do.

See, it’s a problem.

I am taking myself to France in October to research The Woman On The Wall. For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa that is half epistolary love story and half Indiana Jones-style thriller.

I know, in my head, I am going to Paris and Amboise to chill and get to know the places where the novel is set as well as possible in 14 days. I’m not going to play tourist.

Then, the other part of my head goes bananas. I have like a billion to-dos in Paris in my Google Maps. I can do 12 hours a day in the first two days I get off the plane, right?

This article killed all of my need to do Paris (in a good way), giving me permission to just wander through my quick 72 hours there.

Yes, me and La Gioconda are hooking up.

We’ve already texted.

She’s expecting me.

However, I have now basically just thrown my crazy to the wind and decided that everything else in Paris can just happen.

We’ll see how I fare.

The Little Things

My husband is not particularly sentimental in an outward sort of way. He reserves that space for me, as sentimentality is a condition I dine on daily.

So, when he wandered home tonight with three bundles of the flowers we had at our wedding (my favourite) and a box of croquembouche from the local bakery for my birthday, my heart could not contain itself.

We’ve spent the last 20 years together and the relationship is one of comfort and mutual respect. To wash his socks that he needs for tomorrow means something. Lilies and French pastry from our wedding mean something.

These are the most wonderful gifts —ones that find themselves infused with the knowing that the person receiving them gets the thought that went into them.

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