Halfway There & Filled With Gratitude

Yesterday marked the halfway point of my “Radical Lent: a Poetic Approach to 40 Days in the Wilderness” Project.  As it is a project, and as I often remind my students of the importance of “early deliverables” that give you a chance to step back and ask yourself how things are going, I’ve decided to do that today.

Actually, I began this blog, From the Heart, in earnest on February 15th.  It was already lurking in my private cyberspace closet for a little while before then, but on February 15th, I took what felt like an audacious and presumptuous step, and asked people to consider subscribing to my blog.  Then I texted my sister to say that I felt sick.

The idea for the Radical Lent project–reading 40 poems in 40 days and writing about them–came to me a few days later (on Ash Wednesday), as I was pulling out of the parking lot after dropping my son off at daycare.  I just thought, “This is what I’m going to do.”  And so here we are: 21 posts, 60 subscribers, 136 comments, and 2,804 total views later.

I’m sharing these blog “stats” not to brag, because stats are completely relative, and to an experienced blogger, this would look pretty pathetic.  Also, experienced bloggers advise not to become overly concerned with stats–how many people are reading your blog, who they are, how they are finding you, etc.  This makes sense (though really, who are they kidding?) because, take it from me, your mood will directly correlate with the line chart of how many views you get on any given day, and if your thinking tends towards the obsessive, you can wind up sitting in front of your computer with a very bad headache trying to WILL people to read your blog just so you can see the evil line edge upwards (maybe if I hit refresh, the number will have increased?). 

I’m sharing the stats because they are yours as much as mine, and here is why.  When I ask myself what the main things that I’ve learned from this project so far are, I keep remembering a strange childhood fear of tornadoes.  I grew up in New Jersey where the only truly disastrous phenomenon is traffic, so I attribute this fear to my general childhood neuroses (when I was about 8, for example, my father unexpectedly announced a preference for placemats at the dinner table, and I became very concerned that my real parents had been abducted by aliens, and these odd people with their strange new ideas about table settings were not to be trusted), or to too many viewings of The Wizard of Oz.

When the tornado fear would kick in, I used to calm myself down in my bed at night by going through the names of friends, picturing their parents, their houses, and saying to myself, “They will still be there.  Kathleen will still be there, her house with the blue-tiled pool will still be there, her funny parents with the weird teeth will still be there,” and on and on, because this made the fear of being swept away less probable.  While I could imagine myself being swept away, I couldn’t really imagine other people being swept away, so thinking of people I was connected to kept me closer to the ground.

This blog experience has been like that for me, despite the fact that there are plenty of ways to get swept away from the real task of simply writing from your heart for people you care about in a way that you hope is meaningful.  There’s the stat obsession I mentioned earlier, there’s the whole phenomenon of social media, of putting your work “out there,” of learning about RSS feeds, Twitter, networked blogs, blog directories, and on and on and on.  Not to mention the crippling self-doubt that while you might be able to write some nice little blog posts, you are not a “real” writer, and there are 17 million people who are smarter, more productive and more creative than you, but I just can’t go into that right now.

When those mental tornadoes threaten, I remember the lovely, kind, supportive people who read what I write and comment, either formally or informally; I think of how this project has connected me in completely new ways to people who I already know, and to people I am excited to be getting to know.  Regular, everyday, tangible people who, just by being out there, and by letting me know that they exist, keep me closer to the ground, to what is real and true and important.

There are lots of sites that offer advice to new bloggers, and the posts that always get the most attention are about how to “get more views,” and  “promoting your blog.”  And there is some really good advice out there that will help me as I continue this endeavor.  But for right now, my blogging mantra is this: be generous.

Read what you read not just because you hope that writer will come and read YOUR blog, but because you genuinely want to read what’s out there and support the people who are working at it, day after day.  Know that there is enough room for everyone at the blogging table or whatever the “table” is for you.  Be generous with yourself to (note to self: I’m talking to you here), because you are one of those people who’s out there, working at it, day after day, and that matters. 

What I’ve suspected from the beginning is turning out to be true: it is working at the thing you love that will transform you, not the thing itself.  What I mean is that it is the discipline of working at whatever it is that moves you and satisfies you that is the source of the transformation, not whatever outcome you happen to produce.  And as far as outcomes go, when I look at those “stats”, however much or little they really mean in and of themselves, I want to say to you, to anyone reading, “Look!  Look what we did!  And we’re only halfway through!”

Today’s poem is a gift, to myself, and to everyone who has been following along on this endeavor so far.  It’s an excerpt from the poem, “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

from “Kindness,” Naomi Shihab Nye

19 thoughts on “Halfway There & Filled With Gratitude

Add yours

  1. This has been a great experience for me, your reader. Your words help me recognize in myself that which is true, but lies beyond awareness. I hope you’ll continue your experiment after Lent is over.


  2. I second Joyce’s thought – please don’t stop at Easter! We have so much to learn from you!

    I loved reading about your process in putting your blog out there. I’m not yet bold enough to ask people to subscribe to my blog. I may need to call you for pointers!

    Thanks again for your beautiful teachings,


    1. You’re bold enough to do the Last Year to Live project, but won’t ask people to subscribe to your blog? Come on, lady! Think of how much your journey will teach others! I love reading it, and just thinking about it the whole thing.


  3. I’m from PG and I loved today’s poem. It resonated with me so much as I was able to share kindness after I had endured great sorrow. I started my own nonprofit for lung cancer to help other families deal with the disease after I had lost my mother to the disease 4 years ago. I was only able to give back to that community after I, myself had experienced great sorrow. And I believe she walks by my side always.


  4. Thank you for today’s post. I loved the Nye poem and I especially loved your words about doing the thing(s) that we love being what transforms us. Yes, yes, and yes.

    I’m celebrating your Lenten discipline–it is inspiring.

    Tell me more about the Last Year to Live project.
    Missing you–


    1. Bettina, my friend Barbara is on a journey inspired by Stephen Levine’s book, A Year to Live, and is writing about it @ http://lastyeartolive.wordpress.com. I think it’s organized by the New Zen Center for Contempletive Care, whose work seems extraordinary (I’ve only visited their web site). Miss you too!


      1. That’s right – this particular Year to Live group is organized by the NY Zen Center for Contemplative care. But there are similar groups springing up around the country – many informally in people’s living rooms. I highly recommend it! 🙂


  5. I wake each morning anticipating your next blog. This has become so much more for me. You know that saying “teacher show thyself”. You have shown yourself and I am learning.

    thank you


  6. I echo the comments so far, not only has your writings been a joy to read but an open window to thoughts and contemplations ….. you are a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing yourself !


  7. it has been pure joy to read your blog each day – i eagerly anticipate it arriving in my in-box. thank you so much for your courage to share your world, you are such a beautiful writer! i hear your voice in each word, even though it has been so long since i have actually heard your voice! you inspire me my dear friend!


  8. Always reading, not always commenting. I am not the writer you are and I know people read the comments. You are very brave Leslie for putting your thoughts into words that we all can hear. I love it!!!


  9. I’ve been watching your website since long before you began the blog and hoping to attend one of your events. I always check everyday for something new and decided after reading your post today that I would subscribe so you can “see” me in your stats. I find your writing provocative; it makes me think. Thank you. Keep on!


  10. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for being brave and having the courage to “put it out there.” I eagerly await each day’s writing and am excited about how thought provoking, real, funny, and poignant each one has been.

    I am also shocked by how intimidating it is for me to think of writing my thoughts in reply. Today my mind is racing in various directions in response to what you have written. I want to thank you for writing and inviting me to think more about expressing my inner life through my writing. Yet, I freeze when I begin to try to share my appreciation with you. What will others think? Will my response be acceptable to the blogosphere? Is there spell check on this reply mechanism?

    Yet, journeys begin with that first step. Expressing myself through my writing has been a longing within me for as long as I can remember. You have become my beacon and guide during recent years. Showing me the way – take the first step – write with a group – attend a workshop – read out loud your writing – read a friend’s words – share how those words resonate with you – listen to the poetry – be still – write from the heart – just write.

    It’s like you are clearing a path in the woods, saying “come this way, it’s scary but the view on the other side is worth the effort. The road is rough but step around that puddle and over that rock and soon you’ll reach the clearing.”

    Keep walking Leslie, I’m right behind you all the way.


  11. Please continue to write this blog after Lent, Leslie; I’m so enjoying the daily inspiration you offer to all of us.

    Hugs to you~


  12. I would like to “copy and paste” Cloydia’s reply to this blog………. I could not have said it any better.
    I am enjoying this blog more than I could ever explain:)))


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