What’s in a Word?

December Sunrise

December Sunrise

“The mind that opens up to a new idea never returns to its original size.” – Albert Einstein

“We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.” – Janis Ian

“If man understood that ‘what I create has nothing to do with what anybody else is creating’ then he wouldn’t be so afraid of what others are doing.” – Abraham

“People who are given whatever they want soon develop a sense of entitlement and rapidly lose their sense of proportion.” – Sarah Churchwell

I have a double major BA, Religious Studies and Theatre and Speech, and I have a MA in Theater Arts. I don’t write that to brag. I write it to let you know that I have lots of experience with the use of words and how they can be used to bend a group of people to a certain point of view.

Words are symbols for ideas. Duh, you might say, but there are two different meanings ascribed to the words we use. There is the denotative, or dictionary meaning and there is the connotative meaning, or the meaning we attach to a word. Some words set off deep emotions within us. And sometimes those emotions are used to bend us to a certain point of view. The people who are doing the bending, don’t always have our best interests at heart. In fact, most of the time they don’t.

Let me give you some examples of words that have been given a new connotative meaning through propaganda. Patriot, liberal, conservative, and entitlement. Those are words we twist in propaganda messages to attack those we don’t like or want to keep in a weakened position. I guess, in that case, we should include in the list, propaganda and persuasion. They are both very powerful ways to sway people to your way of thinking, but they use very different tactics. Look up the words patriot, liberal, conservative, and entitlement for yourself. What does the dictionary say they mean? And do they mean what you think they mean?

I would like to comment on the difference between persuasion and propaganda. When I taught English, we studied the difference between propaganda and persuasion. I wanted my students to begin to think critically about the messages they get through the media.

Persuade: 2. to induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding; convince.

Propaganda: 1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc. 2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

The difference between persuasion and propaganda is clear in the dictionary meanings. But it seems to me that most people don’t do the critical thinking necessary to determine whether what is said in the media, by politicians, the clergy, the business person, banker, or clerk at the grocery store is in fact using persuasion or propaganda.

And that brings me to the current unrest in the world. Accusations are hurled like swarms of bees, but is the buzz the words make true or is it manufactured? Have you bothered to investigate what’s being said? We’re at a critical time in human history where we can destroy ourselves or we can change the world for the better. Which do you hope for? If you want the world to be a peaceful, loving place in which to live, then you need to start to examine the ideas expressed in the books and articles you read, the news you listen to, and even the things your friends say. Our country was founded on debate, but it doesn’t help if you only listen to the words that make you feel comfortable, or that support the way you’ve been indoctrinated to think.

One of my favorite movies is The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin. In that movie two characters, the president, and one of his aides are arguing about whether or not the president should make counter comments to the attacks by the man who is his primary challenger for president in the next election. President Shepard says, “Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. The drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.”

I urge you not to be one of the ones who doesn’t know the difference between the sand and the water. I hope you’re someone who questions everything you read and hear that have to do with the myriad of important issues we face. Examine not only the meaning behind the words people use, but their intent in using them. We can’t afford to be lazy and let things happen to us. We need to be challenging the way we think so we can create a new way of being in the world with our new thoughts.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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Discipline

Barry's pottery

Barry’s pottery

“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn

“Confidence comes from discipline and training.” – Robert Kiyosaki

“Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they’re making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that’s the difference.” – Lou Holtz

“For those who have been trained by it, no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful…” – Bobby McFarrin, “Discipline” from Medicine Music

Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about discipline for various reasons. Some are related to my work as a writer, others have to do with my work as a college instructor, others have to do with my spiritual work. My thoughts are too many and convoluted to enumerate here. However, I want to share some of the things I’ve gleaned from my thinking.

It takes discipline to:

Discover your purpose.

To make your dreams come true.

To educate yourself.

To change your perceptions.

To change from complaining all the time, to being happy each and every day.

To feel empathy by walking in another persons shoes.

We can choose self-discipline or we can choose the opposite.

It takes NO discipline to:

Complain.

To be angry about events outside your control.

To hate those who are different from ourselves.

To blame others for our circumstances.

To roll up in a ball and let fear overtake us.

Whichever we choose, we are responsible for our choices no matter how much we’d like to blame others.

It seems to me humanity is at a cosmically important crossroads. Do you want to, as Wayne Dyer says, die with your music still in you?

If you want a better world in which to live you must choose one way or the other.

If you want to have a happier life, remember what Dr. Christiane Northrup says, “Rather than think you need to go on an archaeological dig into your past, just look at your life in the present moment to see what your past beliefs have created.”

Do you like where you’re living? If not consider employing discipline which is choosing to take one step toward who you want to be, then another step, and another. One day you’ll be glad you started the journey. And remember that every lesson you learn, adds to the advancement of the human race.

Which path do you choose?

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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Joie de Vivre

Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies

“People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire them.” – Tony Robbins

“Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” – Joseph Campbell

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Tuesday is the day I write my weekly blog. Sometimes it’s a struggle to express the things I’ve been thinking about over the last week. Today is especially difficult because it’s the day I’ve finished the grading for the classes that just ended yesterday. Some semesters go smoothly and all my students receive passing grades but as with this semester, sometimes I have students who fail. When that happens, I am tempted to blame myself for their failure. But, the other day I watched the Super Soul Sunday with Dr. Christiane Northrup and something she said was particularly appropriate for how I’m feeling today. She said something like, “If I feel the need to fix other people, that’s my addiction. Each person must find their own way.” Sometimes I want to fix my students and force them to succeed. I felt like that this semester. But that doesn’t help anyone.

I guess I come by it naturally because for most of my life I’ve been a fixer. In fact that was my role in the family. So when my students, friends or family struggle, I’m tempted to help them find their way out of the darkness. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that the best way to help someone through their dark times is just to be there for them. If I do the fixing for them, it never lasts because it’s as if I don’t trust them to be strong enough to fix their own lives.

It’s interesting that I have such a deep pull toward helping others when most often I keep my own council. For most of my life I’ve felt I had help beyond who or what I could see and I’ve trusted it to guide me. When I was quite young, I felt that one day I would find a deep love of life even when what was happening on the outside wasn’t so very happy.

Now my life is becoming more and more joyful. I wake up every morning excited about the day ahead. So, when Dr. Northrup also said, “Getting older is inevitable, aging is optional,” I felt like she was talking about my life. We choose whether or not to shrivel up and become old, or we choose to learn from the things that happen to us and find a joy in life. Other times we choose to give up and fail. But that’s never the end. We can always make a new choice and transform our lives. That’s grace.

I hope that my students who failed my class will understand that one, two or even twenty failures doesn’t define who they are. There is so much more to each of us than anyone, even we, can see. Digging deep inside to find that larger part of us is what will eventually bring joy to our lives.

This post feels like it’s a bunch of gobbledeeguck, but if there is one thing I hope you get out of it, it’s this: keep plugging along. Keep looking for the things that make you happy. Keep choosing to love, rather than be angry, hurt and upset. Keep telling yourself you’re worthy and one day you’ll find joie de vivre, the joy in living as I have done. When one person finds that, they leave bread crumb clues for those who come along behind.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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On Creative Criticism

April Morning Rose

April Morning Rose

“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” – Johannes Kepler

“The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark

After five years of working on my first novel, The Space Between Time, I felt I needed to have some help identifying places where it needed to be tightened up, scenes dumped, or characters clarified. I needed a second, third or more set of eyes to help me improve upon what I’d written. Having someone critique your work is a scary proposition. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. It’s scary but it’s necessary. At least it is for writers.

There are several things to consider when you send your work out for critique. The biggest thing you have to keep in check is your ego. This is a hard one, believe me. An artist puts their heart and soul, and a great deal of time into the thing they’ve created. A writer friend of mine, who is one of the people I asked to critique my book, spent twenty years working on her first novel! (Shameless promotion here: The novel is The Sweet Trade by Debrah Strait and well worth your time reading. It’s about five boys in the Caribbean in the mid-1600s who are tragically orphaned. After being sold into indentured servitude, they must become pirates to survive. The twenty years Debrah spent on writing it make it a treasure for the reader. You can find it at Smashwords, Amazon and other books sellers.)

Anyway, back to my friend Debrah, it took her an extremely long time to finish her book because she had a full-time job. She told me that when she thought it was finished, she sent it out to publishers and entered it in contests. Each time she got comments back, the advice she got for changes were sometimes things she didn’t want to hear. Boy could I relate to that one. But she said she took time to consider the changes that were being suggested. She compared them to the story she was trying to tell. In her heart she knew which suggestions were right and those are the changes she made.

As Debrah and other writers have said, sometimes people try to belittle you with their comments. Who knows why they do it. Don’t listen to them! But the bottom line is that not even all friendly suggestions you get for changes will add to what you’re trying to do. So you have to consider each correction carefully and use only those that enhance the message you’re trying to convey with your story. Which leads to the next thing to consider when evaluating criticism: You are the expert!

This is your work of art. Only you know what you want your audience to get out of the piece. You are the one who sits long hours crafting each character and each thing that happens to them. You’re the one who contemplates your story while you’re doing something else. Only you, know what it is that’s trying to come through to be manifest as art. Since this is the case, once you’ve given your work to those you trust, you must keep your own counsel about which suggestions you’ll use and which you’ll let go.

Keeping your own counsel brings us full circle back to the ego. Our ego thinks it’s in control of everything we do. It sees criticism as attack. It’s important to keep in mind that’s usually not the case with your friends, family and other writers, especially writers. They know exactly how vulnerable you’re feeling. At least that’s what I’ve found. Letting go of your ego is a goal you accomplish a little at a time. But like anything that makes us grow, there will be times when we feel pain or discomfort. However, a great thing will happen if you choose vulnerability. You’ll find cheerleaders, people who see potential in your work and who will help you feel good about making necessary changes.

I’m grateful for all the people who’ve read and commented on my manuscript. They were taking a risk that I would get mad and never speak to them again. Fortunately that wasn’t the case and I’m ready to move on to the next phase of revising and polishing my novel.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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