About Catherine Keefe

Catherine Keefe is a human being writer, teacher, writing coach. Her poetry, creative nonfiction essays, interviews and book reviews have appeared nationally.

Every day, something

inside books

I’m on a quest to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My hope that kindness can change the world feels a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

You can call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.
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That feeling you get when you walk into a home and smell fresh bread baking. The sense of welcome, of being in the company of people who generously share what they love, what you love, in an artisanal, intentional way.

That’s what it feels like to me every time I see my work published. Of course it’s nice because then I know my words will find an audience larger than my writing group. But it’s more than that. It’s the overflow of gratitude I feel toward the editors for all the work that goes into getting any creative endeavor out into the world.

Today feels especially good because I have the honor of finding my poem, “Mother” , as Poem of the Day on one of my favorite literary websites, SWWIM Every Day.

Mother /

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You might enjoy the entire poem if you’ve ever looked longingly at a giant book of words hoping to pluck the perfect ones to speak well with someone you love. While poems are supposed to be like a family’s children, no clear favorites allowed, “Mother” holds a soft spot in my heart, as does SWWIM with its mission statement:

SWWIM publishes, celebrates & promotes women, women-identifying & femme-presenting writers through a Miama-based reading series & the online poetry journal SWWIM Every Day.

That’s right. Every. Single. Day. Two super human editors – Jen Karetnick & Catherine Esposito Prescott – put out for all the world to see, one gorgeous poem. You can subscribe and have one poem delivered to your inbox every day and become an Instagram follower to find one fine poem in your feed every day.

I reached out to Jen and Catherine, first to thank them for keeping literature piping hot and always fresh. Then, as if it wasn’t enough to give my poetry an audience, I asked more of them. Questions. They kindly pulled back the curtain so we might glimpse an insight into what fuels their creativity.

How long have you been publishing a daily poem?
We began publishing on October 1, 2017.
Have you ever missed a day?
Yes! But only intentionally. We take periodic breaks around summer and the winter holidays.  This year, we plan to take a publishing sabbatical from July-August. Generally, our publishing breaks coincide with our children’s school vacations. 
Do you have a staff of thousands, or are you two exceedingly gifted at nonstop working?
Hahaha. It’s the two of us…juggling jobs, families, our writing, etc. You know what they say about busy people? We are her kind. Or just workaholics. Whatever fits the narrative.
Do you want to share who you’re reading now, which art you’re immersed in, or what music is on repeat that inspires you? 
Catherine Esposito Prescott says: I’m re-reading the Bhagavad Gītā at the moment and re-engaging with the work of mystical poets and the Transcendentalists as well as Whitman, a bit of Dickinson, and TS Eliot. I recently completed a 200-hour Jivamukti yoga teacher training course, so the music on repeat (in my mind and in my home) is kirtan…lots of mantra chanting.
 
Jen Karetnick says: I’m reading a ton of journals and lit mags—both print and online. My house is on the market, so I have to donate everything afterward to Goodwill or libraries. As we’re going through our mail in prep for an eventual move, we’ve discovered I have upwards of 20 subscriptions. Some of them I’ve been subscribed to twice, under two different spellings of names (I’m looking at you, Poets & Writers). 
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So there’s the secret sauce. Just keep doing what you love and take time to refill your spirit with inspiration.

What is it you do every single day? Some people publish poetry. Others try to find one simple way to spread kindness. Some write. Some paint. Some sing or drum or work at feeding themselves and their families by picking the grapes that dry into raisins that sweeten my bread. Some get out of bed and that’s enough.

If you have a tiny bit of extra energy, take time to reach out and say hey to someone you admire. Tell them they’re a rock star in your eyes. Then carry on being you.

With kindness.
~Catherine

 

 

 

 

“You will go back to your own life…

I’m on a quest to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My hope that kindness can change the world feels a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

You can call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.
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“You will go back to your own life, but what will happen to me?” This simple question, asked years ago by a young boy, haunted a poet / editor friend of mine and ultimately inspired her to publish Collateral Damage, a benefit poetry collection dedicated to children impacted by trauma.

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I first met Ami Kaye, that poet and editor, shortly after I embarked on my dream of creating dirtcakes, a literary journal. 

“Exceptional works to replenish the spirit.”

This mission statement of Glass Lyre Press, Ami’s publishing imprint, inspires me. It resonates with my own reasons for wanting to get into publishing, what I hope to accomplish every time I sit to write: “to replenish the spirit.”

I sought out Ami at a writer’s conference in Los Angeles to ask her advice for running an independent literary press, which means one with no institutional financial support.  Ami graciously encouraged me, then painted a picture of how at publication time she rallies a small group of volunteers around her dining room table in Illinois. They make editorial decisions about which literature will further the mission of the press, design covers and interior typesetting, diligently proofread galleys, hand package the books and magazines to be sent out to readers. Finally, someone volunteers to drive the batch to the post office.

All for the love of the word.

For so many creatives – writers, artists, musicians – and the people who promote their work, getting art out to humanity is a gesture of kindness. My lasting impression after first meeting Ami Kaye was that she’s a woman who leads with her heart. 

So I wasn’t at all surprised when I learned to she was putting together a benefit anthology titled Collateral Damage.

“This benefit anthology seeks to raise funds for children with basic survival needs, for programs that protect and educate children, and foster child advocacy. This book will highlight children caught in the crossfire of war and political strife, adult ambition and greed. It will also address the transformative power of love and care. As current custodians of this world we need to protect the future: our children. Only if we work together can we harness the strength to speak up for those not allowed a voice; turning away is not an option anymore.”

I consider myself fortunate to now hold Collateral Damage in my hand. It includes two of my poems alongside powerful work from many of my poetry heroes. Not surprisingly, one of my poems is about sharing bread.

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Putting precious resources of time and money into a book of poetry as a response to war, famine, abuse, injustice and healing might seem like a small, insignificant act of defiance.

But guess what? Counterintuitively, it may be one of the most effective ways to combat psychic numbing to trauma, whether personally experienced or witnessed through media, by offering our human psyches specific imagery, which is one of the superpowers of poetry. And that’s intriguing considering that the National Endowment for the Arts just reported poetry reading is on the rise, at its highest levels since shortly after 9/11/01.

Poet Naomi Shahib Nye offers insight into how poetry has the ability to uniquely connect humanity in an often quoted essay which appeared on Oprah.com  in early 2002.

“Apparently, the entire United States has taken to reading more poetry, which can only be a good sign. Journalists ask, “Why do you suppose people are finding strength in poetry now?” Those of us who have been reading poetry all our lives aren’t a bit surprised. As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor—those great tools of thought—and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world.”

The allure of poetry, of its ability to find a way “inside situations” and create an impact makes sense according to research on witnessing reactions to wide scale trauma by Paul Slovic, PhD, founder and president of Decision Research, a non-profit organization investigating human judgment, decision-making, and risk. Dr. Slovic has invested much of his career trying to understand why epic tragedies like mass genocide, climate change, refugee crises, create numbing among witnesses rather than mass action.

In a 2018 interview with science reporter Brian Resnick in VOX, Dr. Slovic broke down some key findings:

“People care about individuals. We see it over and over again: There’s a child who needs an operation, his parents can’t afford to pay for this operation, and there’s a story in the newspaper. An outpouring of money donations and support is often tremendous. We do care a lot about individuals. We don’t scale that up, even when we’re capable.

“Individual stories and individual photographs can be effective…they get us to see the reality, to glimpse the reality at a scale we can understand and connect to emotionally. But then there has to be somewhere to go with it.

“These…stories of individuals…give us a window of opportunity where we’re suddenly awake and not numbed, and we want to do something. If there’s something we can do, like donate to the Red Cross, people will do it. But then if there’s nothing else they can do, then over time that gets turned off again.”

So here, in Collateral Damage, are poems, “stories of individuals.” One poem, “An Interdiction Forbidding Mourning: Tehran, 2009” by Susan Fox, is dedicated to “Neda Sultan Agha, shot by a sniper for not wearing a chador.” Another, “The New Breed” by Alison Letterman is “For Emma Gonzalez and the other student activists” who are protesting gun violence. The collection holds heartbreak and paths to redemption. 

After I received my contributor copy of Collateral Damage, I sent Ami Kaye a few questions via e-mail about the back story of the anthology and her hopes for its future. She graciously responded for you, dear readers. 

What inspired this anthology?
During an undergrad semester I worked at a blind school and struck a friendship with a teenage boy. After the day’s lesson I shared stories and poems, he sang songs and told me of his dreams. On my last day he was withdrawn and refused to speak to me. After some prodding he burst out, “You will go back to your own life, but what will happen to me?” His words always stayed with me and I became very conscious of the plight of children. After I became a parent, I was even more aware of the staggering problems facing children, and while I was involved in various ways over the years, I did not have the means to do much. Now with the energy and talent of so many wonderful people, I hope we can do more.

In what ways did the project exhaust or energize you?
The sheer volume of correspondence, reading and selecting work, and the production logistics were daunting, but the response from the literary community warmed our hearts. I think that kind of enthusiasm, the shared dedication, and most of all, the thought of the children energized everyone working on this multi-dimensional project.

What did you have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to this project?
We did not say no to other projects so last year was difficult for all of us. We ended up with a four-month backlog that has spilled into this year, but we think it is worth getting this project off the ground.

Was there a poem (or more than one) that made you cry?
There were several poems that hit me in the gullet. Some poems were powerful, some arresting, some with vivid visuals, but all had components that bolstered the cause. Taken as a whole, the book gives a voice to those rarely allowed one. I know readers will find a number of poems that speak to them.

Who deserves a shout-out for making this a reality? (I see Tracy McQueen, Steven Asmussen, Linda E. Kim, and Karen Bowles’ names on the front matter. Anyone else? Do you care to say a small detail about something one of them did that made the project as beautiful as it is?)
Steve deserves the lion’s share of praise for production, but Linda Kim and Karen had the painstaking job of copyediting. Karen especially, while wrestling with health issues and an evacuee from the recent California wildfires, somehow found the energy to participate in this project. Tracy’s stark cover art is a wordless poem. Most of all, each and every one of our authors and submitting poets deserves a shout out for their dedication to this cause. That kind of sincerity and emotion humbles me and gives me hope.

Is there one specific organization that will benefit from the proceeds? What impact do you imagine it will have?
We were originally thinking of UNICEF, or we’d like to try an organization more likely to allot a greater percentage of funds directly for the children. We are thinking of Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, and a few others. Please email amikaye.pf@gmail.com with any other suggestions.

Obviously our first hope is to raise money for the children, but sometimes impact comes in unforeseen ways. I hope people will read the heartrending poems and be moved to spread the word and raise awareness for programs that benefit and foster child advocacy.

I’m deeply grateful for all the work that Ami and her team at Glass Lyre put into Collateral Damage and all her other projects.

So, I’m spreading the word. And I’m cheating a little with one of my self-set rules for this Year of Kindness: Don’t use monetary donations as an act of kindness.

I bought three issues. But I’m giving myself a pass because I want to share these three issues with you, especially if you run a writing program where you tackle issues of trauma. If you want a free gift issue of Collateral Damage , please send me an e-mail using the form on the sidebar to your right telling me a little something about why you would appreciate this particular volume.

That’s it.

Then go read some poetry. National Poetry Month is in its waning days, but our psyches thrive on the images, the music, the human connection that poetry gifts us with, and that in turn gives us more inner fire to be kind.

Light the world with kindness,
~Catherine

 

Question: The edge

new flower dance

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world feels a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

You can call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

“This one appeared to me
in a dream…”

What a spring to discover one unexpected aspect of this Year of Kindness: It’s impossible to walk through the world without intent attentiveness: To my family. My friends. To the check-out guy at Trader Joes who thanked me for pointing out what a glorious day it was when he said he woke up feeling cynical and sad with the the world. And to the sky flood of bright orange painted lady butterflies which one incredible March day streamed past me in an endless field of poppies while I stood open-armed, smiling in the midst of their silent migration, which by some estimates numbered in the millions. 

I lived through the Trabuco Canyon drought, the brown days and orange fires. And just like that, with a little respite in the form of plentiful rain, I walk through a wonderland this spring learning to name the flowers. Wild hyacinth. Whispering bells. Mariposa Lilly. Lupine.

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Super Bloom expands for miles in such unimaginable scope it’s impossible to photograph the sweeping hillsides in a way that translates their wonder. So I focus close. One kind act. A blooming purple wild chia. One golden poppy stem.

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A gray grasshopper on my back deck.

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The grasshopper reminds me of the opening lines of Lawson Fusao Inada’s poem, “This One, That One.”

This one appeared to me
in a dream, was forgotten,
only to reveal itself
on the shower wall
this morning.
It must have been the water.

That one was on the full moon
last night, clear as a bell.
Someone projected it there.

Something about the ordinariness of the gray grasshopper, especially in this extraordinarily colorful spring makes me wonder, how do you draw the line between the sacredness of this thing or that? Between this person or that one?

One living grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens) pauses on a now-dead hewn piece of ironwood (Tabebuia ipê) sawed into lumber planks for a deck. Both are listed in the Catalogue of Life, “the most comprehensive and authoritative global index of species… essential information on the names, relationships and distributions of over 1.6 million species…compiled from diverse sources around the world.” There are no borders in the Catalogue of Life .

This gray bird grasshopper, also known as a vagrant grasshopper, can be found in most of the Southwest US, Hawaii, and parts of Central America. The ipê is indigenous to many countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. Yet both ended up in my backyard where there appears to be plenty of room. My backyard isn’t full.

How do we name the edge, the border between this thing and that, when nature herself has no walls?

That one speaks to me
of space, and negative space,
of open and filled spaces,
and the among
that comes between.

This year I’m dwelling in the “open and filled spaces, and the among that comes between.” My #KindInKind acts have taken a deeper turn from bread baking and letter writing, although to date I’ve delivered more than a dozen loaves accompanied by time for conversation and I’ve sent almost 20 hand-written notes. I’m delving into things that keep us humans from being kind; I’m studying with those who work toward commonality rather than exploiting differences.

Last week I attended one of a series of community forums sponsored by the Orange County Interfaith Network, a group whose mission is to “present united faith-based responses to social justice issues, while encouraging respect, civility and the common good.” The theme of the forum was “The more you know, the less you fear.”  University students representing eight different spiritual traditions – Eclectic Pagan, Roman Catholic, Interfaith, Muslim, Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Conservative Judaism, Agnostic, and Bahá’í – shared spiritual experience narratives and created space for dialogue with dozens of community members.

Caroline Kutschbach, President of the Chapman University Religious Honors Society, articulated what could have been a summation of the evening. “It’s my goal to teach people to be more understanding of one another. You may see me as your ‘other,’ but I see an ‘I’ in all of us. All faith trails can lead us to the same peak.”

I’ve walked up many peaks this spring but not on the only trail. I may not have a traditional faith practice, but I came away from that evening with incredible faith in our future, in the way some young people face differences with curiosity, respect, open hearts and open minds, consciously trying to find common ground with one another rather than building walls. We are living proof that it’s possible to embody kindness in the same spirit the Dalai Lama, expresses in his Policy of Kindness.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

If you’re inspired to consider why it’s kind work, urgent work, to question boundaries and edges, read the entire poem that my grasshopper find called to mind.

“This One, That One” comes from Lawson Fusao Inada’s book, Drawing the Line, about his experience from ages four to seven in an internment campHe was one of the youngest Japanese Americans forced to relocate during WWII after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February, 1942. The order mandated immediate incarceration of all Americans of Japanese ancestry, roughly 120,000 humans, the majority of which were American citizens.

Inada’s poem, his book, questioning the human edge between this one and that one seems especially right for exploring what kindness must mean in America these days and why it feels like the most important practice to focus on this year.

Here’s to trying to lose our rough edge through kindness.
~Catherine

Is kindness more than skin deep?

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

Maybe this week’s actions aren’t even in the category of kindness. You tell me, according to my definition:

“Kindness is any gesture I make directly to – or on behalf of – myself, my fellow humans, or the environment, as a way of saying, “I see you. I believe we’re interconnected. I recognize your dignity and value. 

Kindness must be offered in a way that arises out of attentiveness to another. No one wants to be felt sorry for as much as listened to. Seen. Heard.”

BreadFace

I’m a white woman.

I mostly bake white bread.

I live in a country where white families are statistically still – as in it’s always been this way – wealthier than non-white families.

I live in a country where white students are statistically still – as in it’s always been this way – scoring higher on standardized testing.

I live in a country where white babies are statistically still – as in it’s always been this way – twice as likely to survive their birth than black babies.

“…recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death…” New York Times Magazine, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis” by Linda Villarosa. April, 2018.

Can I spend a whole year dedicated to kindness and not inform myself deeply, and talk about, about these inequities?

I’ve benefitted all my 60 years from being white. I’ve never seen art or literary works by white women hauled out for special attention during “White History Month.” It’s assumed that my whiteness is always visible and on the shelf. Every month is white history month.

Yes, there are fewer women than men represented in the arts, and we’ll get our Women’s History Month in March, but I never have to decide if I should first fight for my race rights or my women’s rights.

When I read books by people of color, I specifically have to seek them out. Representation on book shelves isn’t even close to being equal. For example, when I searched for books in my countywide library system with “kindness” in the title, I got 79 results, none written by a person of color.

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Well, there is that one children’s book about a former slave, written by a white woman, but illustrated by a black man. Does that count? It’s the true story of William “Doc” Key, a former slave. Doc trained his horse Beautiful Jim Key to spell and read by using kindness rather than cruelty. The “Afterword” points out that “Doc and Jim’s legacy lives on in today’s stronger humane movement, better enforced animal anticruelty laws, and greater societal compassion toward animals?” Is it easier for us to advocate for kindness toward animals than kindness to each other?

I have a white dog to whom I’m incredibly kind. I’m friends with black dogs.

 

I subscribe to newsletters: one from Lee & Low Books, “the largest multi-cultural children’s book publisher in the country and one of the few minority-owned publishing companies in the United States”; and another from We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit and grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that “advocates essential changes in the publishing industry. Our aim is to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

I follow @goodblackreads@wellreadblackgirl, and @diverseclassics on Instagram to help lead me to books I might not easily find on my own.

In Old English, “kindness” or “kyndness” means “nation.” This is a derivative of “kind.”

Middle English kinde, from Old English (ge)cynde” natural, native, innate,” originally “with the feeling of relatives for each other,” from Proto-Germanic *kundi- “natural, native,” from *kunjam “family”

“With the feeling of relatives for each other…”

What would you do for family? What does any of this have to do with kindness?

If you’re following along with this month’s “Grow your heart” Kindness Calendar, you’ll notice repetition:

February 1: Find ways to volunteer in your community. Send 3 e-mails asking for information from a group.

February 6: Seek out a book or film set in a community different from yours.

February 8: Did you hear back from your 3 volunteer organizations?

February 21: How’s that book / film coming? Read more.

February is Black History Month. I’ve been reading, devouring really, stories about being black in America. Histories. Herstories.

I watched Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk: Unpacking White Privilege and Prejudice.

I’ve been listening too. I heard this conversation, after a viewing of BlacKkKlansman:

What was the timeframe for BlacKkKlansman? At least it’s not like that in America anymore. Things are better now.

Better for whom? I’d like for my kin to experience no measurable disparity among races.

In 2019 still, in America, being black is a statistical disadvantage for mental health and physical safety, bad for economic stability, and for representation in books, film, art, dance, music, in boardrooms and for over-representation in the criminal justice system. Anything other than white is still “other.” If you’re shaking your head “no, no, no” right now, take a reading break and go on a search engine scavenger hunt. Look up “weathering hypothesis” and “black infant mortality.” Read “A visual look at discriminatory lending in the U.S.” Look up “US Incarceration Rates by Race.”

If I solely identify as white, I don’t have to spend one second of time or energy fighting racism on my own behalf, or that of my family. I statistically benefit every day from things I did nothing to earn but being born of white parents. This leaves me with a hefty store of reserves for #KindInKind, starting with my February 22 suggestion:  How about that volunteer effort?

I volunteer with the Orange County Human Relations committee to speak about hate crimes: How to identify them, report them, prevent them. I went through hours of training, a background check, fingerprinting, practice.

I’ve been waiting more than a year for someone to call on me to present, to allow me to stand safe on the other side of the podium under the banner of OC Human Relations committee and talk about race issues. I’m happy to speak to you or your group, but I’m not waiting anymore for someone to call to take action.

Do you want more from Black History month than quoting Martin Luther King?

Here are four things you can do to kindly “Grow your heart.”

Read: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.

Just Mercy is an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.”

Listen: The red line: Racial disparities in lending  by Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting.

“Forty years ago, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, which required banks to lend to qualified borrowers in blighted neighborhoods. The act aimed to eliminate government-sponsored housing discrimination, known as redlining…Today, a new epidemic of modern-day redlining has crept quietly across America. The gap in homeownership between African Americans and whites is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.”

Watch: Slavery by Another Name, a 90-minute documentary.

“It is rare to have the opportunity to bring to television a story that, outside of academic circles, is virtually unknown,” says tpt National Productions’ Catherine Allan, executive producer of the 90 minute documentary for PBS.  “In telling the story of what happened to African Americans over the 80 year period of “neo-slavery”, we hope to add a significant new facet to America’s ongoing discussion about race.”

Write: Write to your library, your children’s school, your church, your market, your favorite book publisher / shoe store / media outlet / pet store. Write a letter that goes something like this:

Dear________________________,

I appreciate all you do.

You know I’ve always been a supporter of ________________, and I know the impact all your great work has in the field of ____________________.

Are you open to a suggestion? In ___________________ (months, years) it seems the number of white (presidents / preachers / teachers / presenters / readers / managers / guest speakers / etc.) far outnumber those who are people of color.

Don’t you think it’s time to make more opportunity and visibility available to the full spectrum of humanity that lives in our country?

Of course I wouldn’t dare make a suggestion without offering resources. I’m here to help in any way I can. (Don’t worry, dear reader. If you write this letter, I’m willing to help you find those resources. #KindInKind.)

Hunh, I really didn’t anticipate a deep dive in this Year of Kindness, but deep I go. That dialogue about race everyone’s saying we need to have? It’s been going on and on and on and as a white woman, I need to listen, to learn, to speak up, to widen my circle of  kynd.

I like white bread.

I like my white dog.

I love my white grandchildren. And I really want them to work with me on changes that create kindness and lasting equality in their lifetime. 

Be well. Be aware. Be kind.
~ Catherine

You don’t need to like me

The Glass Forest

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

I mean I really do appreciate all the like and love clicks. ButI also hope to inspire you to try a few acts of kindness yourself and tell me how it goes. 

It’s been just over a month since I vowed:

“I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.”

My glass globe of kindness is bobbing along but it’s picking up a little drag along the way.

  • What is kindness and why am I doing this anyway?
  • Is kindness different from being nice?
  • What if my kind of kindness takes longer than one day to perform? 
  • Might I disappoint some people in order to be kind to others?
  • How do I define kindness?

After one month of doing everything from hosting a Vision Board Potluck party, to romping through the mud for 7 miles to make my pup happy; from taking my Mom and Dad out to lunch and photographing them, to baking bread for my neighbor, I’m learning a few things. And speaking of learning, I took an intensive weekend-long poetry writing class to be kind to myself and my readers too.

 

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So far, this is my definition:

“Kindness is any gesture I make directly to, or on behalf of, myself, my fellow humans, or the environment, as a way of saying, “I see you. I believe we’re interconnected. I recognize your dignity and value.

Kindness must be offered in a way that arises out of attentiveness to another. No one wants to be felt sorry for as much as listened to. Seen. Heard.”

Don’t worry. It’ll smooth out to sound more poetic by the end of the year.

Another thing: for now, I’m challenging myself to actions, rather than donating to causes. I believe there’s a human connectivity that compels me to acknowledge and be grateful for all the goodness I’ve received. This connectivity is the foundational belief between the name of my project, #KindInKind. I’ve received kindness and I’ll return it, “in kind,” a phrase defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “consisting of something (such as goods or commodities) other than money.”

Here’s news to anyone who doesn’t tune in to conversations that take place without shouting. Spreading kindness is an entirely unoriginal idea.

There’s:
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
Kindness.org
Doing Good Together
The World Kindness Movement
Spread Kindness.org

To some, kindness means an odyssey, a test of the altruistic limits of humanity as in The Kindness Diaries TV series, or the memoir, The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America by Mike McIntyre.

To others, it’s about creating a grand gesture like One Million Acts of Good.

For all this focus on kindness, you’d think it would be as natural an instinct as breathing, and we’d all be nothing but a big ball of happy. We’ll get there. I firmly believe we will.

Would it surprise you to learn there’s a gender bias about the expectation of kindness?

LeahHug

“Words like kind and responsible, while generally used in a positive way overall, were used more consistently as valued traits for women,” according to a July, 2018 report published by the Pew Research Center, “How Americans describe what society values in men and women.”

So here again, my focus on kindness isn’t surprising. I’m a woman. I should be kind. But so should we all because kindness leads to healthier humans, especially in healthcare settings. Recent research by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism found that:

 “The statistical significance of kindness-oriented care on improved health outcomes is larger than the effect of aspirin on reducing a heart attack or smoking cessation on male mortality.”

Even rats are impacted by kindness; they develop empathy for who (or what) is helpful to them and return a favor in-kind. You can read all about it in “Rats rescue robots,” a 2018 research study printed in the science journal Animal Behavior and Cognition. Here’s a compelling excerpt.

“There is even some evidence that rats show a form of indirect reciprocity and will “pay it forward,” by rewarding an unknown, unrelated rat that has never rewarded them, but only if they have experienced reward previously provided by other rats.”

I’ll keep testing the theory that kindness can change humanity and push it more in February with the theme “Grow your heart.” I’m learning about the California land where I live, and that means its natives, both people and plants.

Yes, I still bake and share bread and meals, send cards, make time for deep conversations, and do small gestures like running an errand for a neighbor or visiting family. January’s theme, “Close to home” continues its ripples.

But in February so far I’ve dug deep into the history of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, people who first lived where I live in California, to learn how I might develop curriculum for California schools which still teach a 4th grade mission unit that overlooks first nations. 

I’ve researched a common and prolifically applied weed killer ingredient, Glyphosate, and its ill effects on humans and honeybees and am advocating against its use in my neighborhood.

These acts are more complex than simple random gestures. They frequently take longer than a day to finish and they push me to be brave as I approach those with different ideas than mine. In being kind to one person, I might appear to be not nice to another. Am I doing this right?

As I live my questions in the Year of Kindness, I remain inspired by the wisdom of others like R.J. Palaccio, the author of Wonder, who said in an interview after the film was released:

“I think if anything it takes much more courage to be kind in the face of everything. The choice that you can respond to any situation…with kindness…elevates us as people. It’s what we should aspire to be and aspire to do. Kindness is one of those things: You are made kind by doing kind and being kind.  Now, more than ever, it’s a message that needs to get out there in the world.”

Some remarkable things have already happened.

Orange Basket

I’ve gotten countless e-mails, DMs, texts, and phone calls from folks I know, and some I’ve never met, who say they’re inspired by all this kindness and they too are now walking through 2019 more aware of their fellow human beings.

They’ve committed to one kind act here, a month’s worth of kindness there.

I hired a talented young graphic designer to make a February Kindness Calendar for you. It’s filled with ideas on how to make your month, or week, or day more kind. If you want one, drop me a line and I’ll e-mail you the free downloadable PDF.

I’d also love to read your definition of kindness. As George Saunders said in his speech that went viral on the New York Times website and is now printed as Congratulations, by way: Some Thoughts on Kindness. 

“Because kindness, it turns out, is hard—it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs and expands to include…well, everything.”

What is your everything? Please tell me.

Until then
Be well. Be aware. Be kind.
~Catherine

I photographed “The Glass Forest” at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA.

Through my mother’s eyes

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I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

She said, “Show me how you meditate.”

One of my favorite kind acts of January was sharing mindfulness meditation resources with my mom and dad.

Do you want great ideas for ways to spread kindness in February?

Reach out on the contact form below and I’ll share a gorgeous February calendar to give you a kindness quest for every day. The 8 1/2 x 11″ printable PDF calendar is free. It’s intentionally designed by Monica Greene, a young artist I’m crazy about.

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From her design stylesheet:

“That leads me to the color palette. Flowers such as primrose and violet are often associated with February as they are the first flowers to bloom in the cold. I thought this imagery was beautiful as they are harbingers of spring and better things to come and your calendar is serving as a harbinger of positivity and beauty in the winter month…

The leaves are from the Ash tree, another symbol for February and by calling on the tree a source I read says, “…you are seeking a clarification for your own vision and path”. I thought this calendar could be the clarification needed…”
Monica Greene

Go be kind.
Share your kindness journey at #KindInKind
~Catherine

 

I see you

eclipsing moonsg

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

It was cold and windy a few nights back when Chester and I headed out the door on his last walk before bedtime. Rain was forecast. A south easterly breeze kicked up, already strong enough to rustle the eucalyptus and jangle the wind chimes. Two owls called to each other down the dark hill.

I was a little mad at myself, wondering if this year of kindness was already floundering since I hadn’t really found a way to be intentionally kind all day. I’d baked bread and shared it at a neighborhood dinner potluck. But I would have done that anyway. I’d been part of a conversation about where to donate the jar of money our friend group fed  all year instead of buying gifts for each other. But that felt like riding the coattails of a 2018 decision. Bah, I thought. I’ll do two kind things tomorrow.

Watch for coyotes, Jim said when we left. I saw one crossing the street just now as I was taking out the trash cans.

Stepping into nearly silent darkness, with its sage-fresh cold air, and tree-lined canopy, is my favorite nightcap. I take a flashlight, but rarely turn it on, especially on a night like this with the waning crescent moon, mars on the far horizon and stars enough to brighten the road.

Forgive me, I asked the moon.

There isn’t a sidewalk, but I can see cars’ headlights in plenty of time to move onto gravel or bushes long before the driver would have to swerve. Anyway, in my sleepy neighborhood on a Sunday night, cars are rare and I’ve never been hit.

So when a black SUV roared up the hill and pulled a u-turn a few feet from me and Chester, I startled. The back passenger door opened and a figure emerged, stood at the car’s back bumper, seeming to watch me. Chester growled low.

Mrs. Keefe!

I recognized the voice of a now-man, a once 7-year-old boy I’d met when we first moved in.

Zach was long gone from the neighborhood, but his father still lives on our block. I was starting to shiver, not eager to stay out longer and tempt the rain and coyote gods, but there was something urgent in the way he’d called out in the dark.

I picked up a thread of conversation we’d been pulling for more than ten years.

Are the right teams going to the playoffs? Zach played football through high school and we always caught up on his life through sports.

Nah, nothing is going right. He kicked the dirt, shoved his hands in his pockets. Inside the SUV, I heard voices between beats in the music.  I just got back from a funeral. Maybe you read about it. A guy I knew was riding a bike and he was hit by a 16-year-old girl. It was really sad. Nothing good about any of it.

Zach is the kind of guy that goes to funerals. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him in front of his house after doing so. A friend’s mom. A friend. It seems like for such a young man he’s seen plenty of death.

So the wind blew and the cold settled while I listened to Zach talk in the dark about two shattered families. The fragility of life. How to find meaning.

I said I was really sorry about his friend.

I pointed at the sky and told him sometimes when I feel bad, I look up just to feel that blanket of stars cover me.

Mhmmm, he said. It sure is beautiful out here. Every day. We’re so lucky to be alive.

According to the United Nations, about 6,775 people die each day in the US.  Odds are we walk past, or brush by, someone grieving more often than we know.

How can we learn to carry a kind, open gentleness in our hearts when someone seemingly snubs us or nearly runs us over?

Can we learn to slow down a little, to look up together in the cold, dark and take time to listen when someone unexpectedly trusts us with an admission of sadness?

Zach and I finally said goodbye. Chester and I returned home. I sat on my balcony watching the moon slowly disappear behind gathering clouds. As clouds cover the moon, you can watch an ever-tightening circle hug the moon closer and closer, creating a focal point of light in the night sky.

The air grew damper and the wind picked up as the chimes clanged a louder dissonance. Down the hill, the owls still called. The lights went out in Zach’s house and I went in to bed.

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Grief is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of being alive. Additionally, we seem to be living in a particularly high-stress time according to one recent indicator reported in the January 14, 2019 Los Angeles Times under the headline: “Mental health books outsell diet and exercise books at Barnes & Noble.”

“In a shift, American readers have become more interested in books about mental health than about diet and exercise, according to data released by bookstore chain Barnes & Noble.

The data, collected around the New Year’s season, seems to indicate that readers’ annual resolutions are focusing less on losing weight and getting in shape, and more on reducing stress and increasing self-esteem.” Michael Schaub

According to research, kindness is contagious and can lead to elevated feelings. In “Kindness Contagion,” a recent article in Scientific American, Jamil Zaki explains:

“Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus…We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them. This implies is that kindness itself is contagious, and that that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.” Jamil Zaki

I suppose there are many reasons why this is so, but I think fundamentally there’s great hope, healing, and joy when we feel seen by another. If you find yourself catching the kindness bug this year, and taking on new forms from my experiences, here are two simple ways to inspire others and uplift the common mood.

1: Post about your action on Instagram using hashtag  #KindInKind.
2: Write about what you did and get in touch via this blog. I’ll share your story, either anonymously or giving you credit, whichever you prefer.

Speaking of credit, my favorite photographer, Susan Greene Photography, gets all the credit for Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse photos.