The Power of Poetry

Four poetry books stacked on a counter

While searching for Monday’s Quote of the Week, I found myself traveling down a rabbit hole of poetry about autumn.  I don’t often take the time to read and contemplate poems at length, but when I do, I’m rarely disappointed.  There’s something about a poem that can communicate a feeling so profoundly.  Free from prose’s need to explain everything in complete sentences, poetry can make its point through images and metaphors, playing with rhythm and structure in ways that make the reader appreciate language like never before.  A great poem has the power to make me feel connected to its author through universal human experience, conveyed with just the right words.

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The Pleasure of Wandering

Black and white photo of stacks in a library

Last Saturday morning, my husband asked if I wanted to drive to a nearby town and have breakfast.  I glanced at my to-do list and replied that I had too much on my plate for the weekend and would rather just stay home and start on my chores.

One of those tasks was to replace a perpetually leaking tire on my car, so at about 11:00 AM, we drove together to the tire shop.  By the time we left, I needed to eat something (pregnancy hunger can be sudden and intense).  Rather than swinging through a fast food drive through lane, we decided to stop by a downtown coffee shop that we rarely visit.  Though they had healthier options, I indulged in a delicious cinnamon roll and a chai latte.

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My Parents’ Parenting

Line drawing of a mother embracing her young daughter

A friend who has two young children asked me to write about some positive things my parents did when I was a child that have shaped who I am today.  So many things contribute to why we are the way we are, from genetics to early friendships to traumatic experiences in our youth, but there’s no denying that our parents’ choices, behaviors, and attitudes have a significant impact on the people we become.  Reflecting on our childhoods is valuable for all of us, and it holds particular value for me at this moment, as I prepare to become a parent. Read more

Making Apologies

Pencil sketch of two people standing a few feet apart

The Grammar Girl podcast did a great show this week on how to write an apology.  For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a post about making tough apologies, so I thought I’d piggyback on Grammar Girl’s discussion.  The show advised listeners to avoid four kinds of non-apologies (the “if” apology, the passive voice apology, the reverse apology, and the florid fauxpology) and to follow a formula for apologizing effectively:

  • Acknowledge the offense clearly
  • Explain it effectively
  • Restore the offended parties’ dignity
  • Assure them they’re safe from a repeat offense
  • Express shame and humility
  • Make appropriate reparation

(Credit to Dr. Aaron Lazare and his book On Apology.)

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In Praise of Old-Fashioned Letter Writing

Embellished stationary, matching envelope, and a pen, perfect for writing a letter

In the wake of my father’s death, I received a number of cards from friends and family members expressing their condolences.  I truly appreciated these tangible expressions, which came in a slow stream over the course of several weeks.  I could read the cards and display them in my home to remind myself of the sentiments they shared, and I didn’t have to immediately come up with words to reassure the sender that I would be ok.  Unlike when I received a call or text message, I didn’t feel the need to say anything.

Receiving these cards led me to think about letter-writing, something I used to do fairly often.  When I was in college, before texting had reached its current level of ubiquity but well after emailing had taken hold as a common means of communication, I regularly exchanged letters with long-distance friends.  Reading and writing them took time, but that time was enjoyable.  Rather than dashing off quick texts in the middle of everyday activities, I would set aside half an hour or so to think about what my friend had written to me, respond thoughtfully, and share what was most important in my life at that moment.  I had no real expectations with respect to these letters.  Sometimes a friend would respond fairly quickly, and other times I would not hear back for weeks, or longer.  I didn’t take the delay personally.  I understood that my friends were busy people who were living their lives and would respond when they had the time to do so.  Receiving a letter in the mail was always a pleasant surprise that brightened my day; it was never something I expected.

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Ask Alexis: How Do I Raise My Kids to be Kind and Open-Minded?

Painting of a row of back patios, divided by fences
September Morning, 2008. Private collection.

Reader Rebecca sent me the following question:

“I have two boys and I live in a very conservative area. I love where I live (mostly), but I don’t like how a lot of people around here talk about people with different skin colors and religions, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and women. I don’t want my sons to ever talk like that. Do you have any advice for raising kind and open-minded boys in an area that isn’t always very kind and open-minded?”

Thanks for the question, Rebecca!  First, a couple of caveats.  I don’t have kids myself (yet), so I’m hesitant to give parenting advice.  In particular, I don’t know your kids, their personalities, or how they might respond in various situations, but I’ll do my best to share some general thoughts on this topic.

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Why Do We Create?

A tiny gold sculpture of a goat
A small gold sculpture of a goat, discovered during the excavation of Akrotiri

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Akrotiri archaeological site on Santorini island in Greece, along with a couple of museums housing works of art discovered at the site.  Observing items that were created thousands of years before the common era led me to think about humans’ desire to make art.  The pieces on display were not limited to pottery designed to hold water and foodstuffs, nor to religious symbols.  There were elaborate wall paintings and meticulously crafted sculptures of animals and human figures.  Like other artists throughout history, these people of the distant past devoted time and scarce resources to producing beautiful objects that served no obvious utilitarian purpose.  Our drive to make things that we don’t really need is unique to humans and appears to be deeply ingrained.  Why do we do it?

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Ask Alexis: How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Charcoal portrait sketch of a young woman
Erika, 2004.

Caroline wrote to me with the following question:

I struggle with my self-confidence. Do you have any suggestions for building self-esteem? I love your confidence. Do you remember any lessons your parents taught you that helped your self-esteem/confidence?

Thanks for the question, Caroline!  First, let me say this:  You have just as much right to be on this planet as everyone else.  You are a unique, worthy person who has many gifts to give: gifts of perspective, kindness, creativity, and more.  We are all works in process, learning and growing as we move through life.  Though it may at times seem like others have everything figured out while you’re still struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, rest assured that everyone has moments of self-doubt.

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Resisting Polarization and Encouraging Compassion

Double rainbow and seagulls over Niagara Falls, with onlookers

We humans like to place people into buckets: good and bad, left and right, us and them. This seems to be an age-old tendency, and it isn’t all that surprising that the rise of social media and the proliferation of news and opinion platforms have allowed our divisions to become more entrenched and more apparent. We can choose to read and listen to only those sources that affirm what we already feel and believe, and we can respond to those who disagree while protected by a screen that keeps us from seeing and experiencing their humanity, their emotional reactions.  Our quickly typed words can be amplified through shares and retweets, carried far beyond the small circles that might once have heard them.

Many, many people have written about the heightened state of polarization in which we live these days, lamenting how destructive it is and postulating about what led to this environment.  It is distressing and disheartening.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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