Sometimes life can be so busy that we have to make proclamations to take time for ourselves. We make this announcement to the world when really a few moments for ourselves is a necessity of life—like food, water, clothing, and the air that we breathe. We need these little moments where we relax a bit and remember that we don’t exist to just do things.
We aren’t here to check off boxes on an unending “to-do” list. We are more than that. We matter. When I listen to music, I’m tapping into the sounds and lyrics that speak to me. Literally and figuratively, they speak my language. Not the language I use with the outside world, but the language I use to speak to myself. It’s my internal language that I’m listening to, echoed in whatever song I’m enjoying. I carve out a space for myself where I matter. When I write poetry, I’m letting myself know that my thoughts, my ideas and the words that I call upon matter. I’m sharing these ideas and this perspective with you right now, because you matter too.
Let’s give ourselves some time to let go of all the challenges we face. Let’s try to open our eyes to see what’s good in our lives. To find those places and moments where we are showing up despite the odds against us. And let’s turn up the music so we have a decent soundtrack for our glow-up.
Embrace Creative Passions to Grow Through Struggle
How do we grow through times of struggle, especially when we embrace our creative passions? This question is at the heart of my podcast, Let the Verse Flow. It’s a cornerstone idea that we will explore. Struggle can be a teacher, sometimes literally. I’m thinking of my strict 2nd-grade teacher Mrs. Selig. She loved us kids in her class, but she had a temper, and trust me, you didn’t want to get on her bad side. She had no shame about calling us out individually if we weren’t paying attention, and while I was a pretty quiet student, I didn’t do so well in her class. We figured out later that one of the reasons I wasn’t absorbing the information was that she liked to write out long, loopy script sentences on the chalkboard. Mrs. Selig was heavy into cursive. The only problem was, I couldn’t see it. I wasn’t seeing much of anything because I needed eyeglasses and no one knew it. Not even me. I got my first pair of glasses toward the end of 2nd grade.
Mostly what I remember seeing was her scolding us with her ruler in her hand and the way the hem of her skirt always rode up in the back. She liked to wear blue polka-dot dresses, and I used to want them to look more uniform in a straight line in the back. But they never did because the skirt part of the dress always rode up. It’s those little details that I most remember in her class. Her temper, her ruler, her long lines of script on the chalkboard, and the ride-up section of her dress.
Somehow I made it through. At the end of the year, when I’d left Mrs. Selig’s class, I read better, my math skills improved, I could recite the pledge of allegiance flawlessly (yes, we did that way back when) and surprisingly, I stood a bit taller. It probably didn’t hurt that I got my first pair of glasses and could finally see the world. Struggling to grow up and mature with Mrs. Selig was rough at times, but when I came out of second grade, I left with a small but valuable gift. The gift of pride. Pride in myself. That’s one really early experience of small growth through struggle that I recall.
Poetry to the Rescue
Now when I struggle, I turn to writing and music—my two creative loves. They have been my constant companions this last year and a half as I try to ride out one of the hardest times in my life. Now, the struggle is much bigger than afterschool detention or an embarrassing scolding in front of my little 2nd-grade friends. The stakes are higher and the challenges have grown in size. To tackle them, I’ll need to call on my old friend. Their name is poetry.
Poetry is Having a Moment
Poetry is having a moment, and whether you enjoy it in written form, through spoken word, or while scrolling through your social media feed, we are living in a time when this ancient form of artistic expression can be whatever we need it to be. There’s freedom in poetry, and no matter what form it takes, at its core, it’s an immersive way to share ideas about life and our emotions—love, fear, sadness, joy, and all the moments in between. Poetry excites our senses, it opens us up to connect with one another—playful words, unworldly patterns, unique connections. We share experiences and find we are able to briefly touch the innermost part of our identity, perhaps we touch our soul. After the hardest year and a half of my life, poetry is helping me build my future. Without poetry and music, my life would have been an overwhelming sea of sadness. Does your creative spirit help you get through life? I hope so. It’s never too late to start down a creative path.
In the preface to his 1939 book of collected poems, entitled, The Figure a Poem Makes, Mark Twain wrote that a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. Comparing it to love, he wrote that a poem ends in a clarification of life… “in a momentary stay against confusion.” I love that. A pushing back against confusion, perhaps internal conflict or stigma. Perhaps it’s a small moment of clarity that comes, but it suffices. I’ll take it. Word by word, rhyme by rhyme, beat by beat, poetry helps me find my way. Surprisingly, it’s led me to create this new podcast—and to you. So I say, Let the verse flow!
Let the Verse Flow: A Podcast Inspired By and Dedicated to My Mom
Let the Verse Flow begins with my mother. A woman who worked two nursing jobs as a single mom to raise me, and made time for painting, jazz, and independent films (her trifecta of personal passions). She was always in my corner, cheering me on through every twist and turn in my life. As a child, every night when she would tuck me into bed, she’d say, “I love you a million times up to the sky and back down again to the ground.” That love song became part of my conscience, something that I’d carry with me on a daily basis. Turns out, I’d need it. Storm clouds were bound to come…
Mom, Your Name and No One’s Same
by Jill Hodge
Smiling eyes below beats a ruby heart
Never far even when so far far apart
Mountain climb on slick slate, beast terrain
But we fight and we love through heavy soaking rain
Remembrance smothered under a veil of smoke
On a journey to nowhere cause what mattered most is broke
Who are you? Where’s my home?
Delusions come, they follow every stroke
There’s no rule book for this uncertain present
So I hold on tight to your very essence
Pleading, stay with me, by my side, soul effervescent
Reflecting on the years gone by
Tears, laughter, turn around, time flies
Flickering, fleeting, the moments drop off and die
Here today, tomorrow’s goodbye
But we grew together, and we grew wise
Through every stage and heavy phase
You saw me right, a loving gaze
I look back to see my life when we were both present
I’ll remember for the both of us but it’s like I’m talking to the desert
Barren and dry, a landscape of goodbye
No whisper, no static, leaning in but no reply
Calling out to you does me no damn good
Why even try?
Cause you did all you could
And I’m your daughter so it’s understood
Your true heart, it’s where I live now
A place so deep and full so proud
Of this we made and kept a vow
No one has your name
Your smell is no one’s same
I could look for a million years
Cross a Milky Way of cascading tears
Missing you, a heavy weight, I’m breathless
A haunted hole a mile down, I’m helpless
The clock ticks on, who can stop it?
Stolen moments, our time is brief
But it’s ours to keep, a treasure, and it’s deep
Every day is Mother’s Day
Every kiss honey lips
Every hug cozy comfort
Every laugh joyful summer
In this poem, I’m talking literally about my mother, but also about the concept of a loving universal mother, sometimes called the “Good Mother” when speaking about archetypes. It’s our concept of a “mother” figure who nurtures us, stands by our side and wants to see us grow and thrive in ways that feel good to us. These universal “mothers” are the positive people in our lives—I would argue that they can be any gender, any age, any relation. When we think of them, we feel at home. Figuratively, we can think of the universal mother as the person who places a warm blanket of love, affection, and respect around our shoulders. The universal mother tells us we can be what we want, we can love how we want. We can have a vision for the life that we want.
My Mom's Illness Brings New Insights
My 87-year-old mother is and always will be my best friend. She is every bit a mother in the traditional sense, but she is also my friend. We’ve laughed together, cried together, comforted each other, and been on each other’s side since the beginning. I realize how lucky I am—I really do. Even during this painful time of losing her, it hasn’t escaped me that I am so blessed to be with her on my life journey. Our love is something that I carry around with me every day. It forms my core belief in the power of goodness and helps me stay positive when I have to face challenges.
Recently my mom had a series of small strokes and many visits to the emergency room here in NYC. She’s been to the hospital more than 10 times in the last year and a half. It’s difficult to be in a hospital because it’s such a hectic place that’s all about testing and diagnosing and categorizing illnesses. There are few corners of humanity in an ER. As strange as that sounds—there are people everywhere but humanity (how we talk to each other, and share personal moments with each other), is ushered away and replaced by a frenetic pace that seeks to know through machines, short consultations, and hospital logistics. The clinical atmosphere overtakes everything. It takes precedence. You may be going through a flood of emotions, but you’re being asked to put that aside and focus on the logistics and practical reality of the situation. For someone like me, who feels a lot, it’s difficult to segment myself into this practical agent for my mother’s needs while the emotional and sensitive person that lives inside me is deeply saddened, reacting to the trauma of losing her.
Once I got over the shockwaves of how these strokes would change my mom’s life and my life, I was sort of numb for a good while. I had no control over her health, I had no control over her losing her independence, the loss of her beloved Upper West Side apartment, and her weekly jazz and art sessions. It’s difficult to watch a person you love lose everything. You’re told it’s part of life—aging is a part of life. That’s true, but it’s hard to hear that when your emotional state is so fragile. You have no place to put that rational idea when you are being ruled by your heart (and not your mind).
What's on the Other Side of Sadness?
In time, I would realize that the flip side of all the stress and sadness of the last year and a half was the slow uptick in personal growth that I was experiencing. One of the themes of my podcast is that loss and struggle are powerful catalysts for growth. If you make it through and find a way to pull yourself back up, pull yourself together, and regroup, you can slowly find small glimpses into the positive changes that can come.
I wasn’t able to see that positive side for at least a year after my mom’s first stroke. There are some days when I still can’t see it, but now I’m building new ways of thinking and have glimpses of a more positive life.
I’m in a grieving state, but there are moments of incredible clarity and brightness that manage to shine through from time to time. I’m focusing on those areas with you. What can we gain from struggle? Here are a few of the positive thoughts and changes that I’ve noticed are starting to rise up during this difficult time.
I know that I am not alone. So many of us are dealing with loss, illness, sadness, and fear. I hope that exploring these rather strange pathways—working through pain and loss to get to a more positive mindset—makes sense to you. I hope it helps you see that potential in your life. Perhaps you’ll think about or try one of these ideas on for size:
- First, I’m writing more poetry and learning to express my feelings in a way that I love deeply. I’m letting the poet out and seeing where that voice takes me. There’s real freedom in exploring your creative side. Creative expression takes you out of the day-to-day mechanics of your thinking patterns and lets you get a glimpse into your soul. I know that sounds dramatic, but I really believe it. I’m closest to myself when I’m creative, and I love visiting that inner place where I’m playful. I’m expanding. I think we are most in tune with our true identity when we are creative because we are most truthful about expressing who we really are. There’s an affirmation of self in the act of doing something you love. Creative pursuits can be related to the arts, but they can also be hobbies like craft making, fixing cars, or tinkering with mechanics, woodworking, and photography.
Perhaps, you find that spending time exploring a creative passion (where there are no rules, shoulds, or typical structure) opens you up to feeling better able to handle the stress in your life. You break free from that stress for just a bit and carry that sense of freedom with you throughout the day. There is personal power in creativity, especially if you allow yourself to freely engage in it without judgment or expectations.
So if you’re a painter for example, instead of beginning a brand new work in oil on canvas, you experiment with collage or another medium where you give yourself lots of creative freedom. Whether it’s writing or dance, or music. Feeling free at that moment. Dancing without worry about choreography (just tapping into the music), or writing a short story or musings (like I did at the start of this article) instead of a structured essay. Get engaged in new creative acts that don’t require you to follow any rules. When you don’t have much control over your day to day, it can feel good to express your freedom and try new things without judgment.
- This brings me to the next benefit. I’m judging myself less (and trying to judge others less too). I realize that we are all going through so much and we can’t always be our best selves. We have to accept our frailty. There’s strength and beauty in it. We must accept the frailty in others too. There’s grace and hope in that.
We spend so much time being hard on ourselves and others, that it’s exhausting. When we don’t have the mental resources to be judgmental, because our life is such a shit show, then we realize that it’s a waste of time. You are exactly where you are at this moment (and so is everyone else). We can’t always control where we are in life.
I’m a huge believer in taking action for a better life, but sometimes we are stuck in a dark place, we are stuck in patterns that we can’t seem to break out of, and what we need for a bit is some acceptance of our current state and place. That doesn’t mean we stay there forever. This is a nuanced discussion. So much of life is not in black and white but in the gray shades in between.
No one will remember our failures, we can’t remember them after a few days, weeks or months have passed. Especially during times of struggle, we need to give ourselves a break. Remind ourselves that the world doesn’t revolve around us and our mistakes. We are all trying our best to get through life.
- The last benefit I want to talk about today is the feeling that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I find that I’m less worried about what other people think. After decades of people pleasing, I’m more concerned about what I want and how I want to live during this new chapter of my life.
It’s hard to give to other people when you feel like your life is falling apart. And one day you wake up and realize that you really didn’t need to do so much for everyone else. You forgot to put yourself on your own to-do list!
My mother’s memory is so poor at this point that she can’t remember what she had to eat for lunch half an hour ago; she isn’t sure if she did eat. But, she still remembers who I am and what we mean to each other. She smiles at me with a knowing smile of deep love and compassion, and she lets me know that I am more than enough. Just by breathing in and out, smiling, holding her hand, by sitting across the table from her as we eat lunch, I am more than enough. I don’t need to strive to be the “best.” If I’m good enough for her (someone I hold in the highest esteem), I should be good enough for me. I don’t have to be “perfect.” I don’t have to do my best every time. Some days I can coast; some days, I can let shit go, and some days, I should say “no.”
Every week that I’m able to add these three things into my life—finding joy in creative expression, not judging myself and others, and not worrying about what other people think of me—every day I do that, I give myself a gift. My mother’s illness is helping me forge a path to changes in my mindset that I never imagined. I figure I get this sense of positive growth as some sort of strange, by-product of all that pain. Each tear that I shed has helped build a new and fortified me. I’m getting stronger, and that “weakness” that we say is carried by those tears, is turning out to be a great source of internal strength. It’s like I’m converting pain into power.
It’s also forced me to reach out to others through my podcast, something I never thought I would do. Losing my mom is making me want to find my tribe—find people who get me and who I get while expressing my true self and letting things fall where they may. There’s freedom in that, and it feels good.
Look Inward Through Journaling
Do you journal? Wish you had time. You do. Don’t think about it, just find 5 or 10 minutes and start building a new relationship with yourself through the simple act of writing. You don’t have to be a certain type of person to journal, so please leave your judgments at the door and just try it. You’ll be amazed at the insights you gain by letting your thoughts spill out onto paper. I tend to do my journaling right before bed, often as part of my space to be conscious of what I’m grateful for, but any time slot will work. Lots of people like to do it first thing in the morning. Get out a piece of paper (I think the act of writing is better than typing it, but you do you). Here are two journal prompts about loss as a catalyst for personal growth. Write about them, and let me know what you find out about yourself. You can connect with me on Instagram.
Journal Prompts (loss as a catalyst for personal growth)
Until next time, don’t forget to stay on the bright side of the beat. 🌞
Music: My thanks to all the musicians who make incredible music and have the courage to put it out into the world. All music for my podcast is sourced and licensed for use via Soundstripe.
Songs in this episode:
Minimalism by Nu Alkemi$t; Winning Streak by JeesGuy; Interdimensional by Cody Martin; An Old Soul by Nu Alkemi$t
LTVF Season One Music Playlist: Check out the songs that inspire me, and connect with artists from many genres who add to our collective, human soundtrack.
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