Avoid useless labor

There’s a prayer in the Catholic mass, right after the congregation says the Our Father together where the celebrant prays Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. and then invites the congregation to share a sign of peace–a handshake, hug, kiss.

The part where the celebrant prays to “protect us from all anxiety” was always my favorite line. There was one priest, I think he had been a former Army chaplain, who used to say mass occasionally at Saint Raphael’s in Williamstown.  He always, without fail, altered that prayer to this: Protect us from all useless anxiety, with extra emphasis on the useless part. It simultaneously cracked me up, and inspired me. Today’s collage, while slightly different, is made with that intention in mind. May we all be protected from useless anxiety, useless labor, useless whatever.

Advent Day Nineteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Nineteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

The capacity to be alone

From Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Rome, December 23, 1903, as translated by Johanna Macy in Anita Barrows in A Year with Rilke.

I often return to this passage, especially during this time of year when in the midst of all the celebrating there are these moments of pure aloneness. This passage often helps me through it.

Could there be a solitude that had no value to it? There is only one solitude; it is vast and hard to bear How often do we gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial and cheap, or trade it for the appearance of agreement, however small, with the first person who comes along. But those may be the very moments when your solitude can grow; its growing is painful as the growing of girls and boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But don’t be confused. ALl that is needed is the capacity to be alone with yourself, to go into yourself and meet no one for hours–that is what you need to achieve. To be alone, the way you were as a child, when the grown-ups walked around so busy and distracted by matters that seemed important because they were beyond your comprehension. 

Advent Day Eighteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Eighteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Here and Now

In 2010 I was lucky enough to participate in Phase Two of Monstress Productions experiment entitled Here & Now. I don’t remember how I received the little envelope, but I did. The packet contained 24 stickers printed with the word NOW. I was instructed to distribute them along my usual daily path. And, when I would encounter them later, I was supposed to “use it as a cue to breathe and concentrate on the present moment for a short respite.” This testing eventually evolved into a line of products that you can explore here.

Advent Day Seventeen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Seventeen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

I still encounter those stickers from time to time along my daily path, which has changed in a variety of ways since 2010. And whenever I do, I still stop and try to use that moment for a short respite.

Let it Breathe…

One of my first projects in graduate school found me making “prints” of my hands. I made detailed linocuts of my fingerprint pattern, digital maps of my hands as well as an installation of handmade paper hands that hung from the ceiling. (This last one was one of my first experiments with “print” or shall I say the multiple as installation–which still fascinates me.)

But the hand.

Advent Day 16, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day 16, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

I love my hands. I could not do my work without them. I try very very hard to take care of them, protect them, respect them and express my gratitude for them. They have certainly gotten in the way of sharp and heavy equipment, but thankfully, nothing too, too awful.

Since that project in grad school 10 years ago, I often find myself returning to some words one of my cousin’s wrote in response to a call for thoughts about the hands that I put out to my email list. This is what she shared:

As for the hands…on my own hands (as well as at the corners of my eyes) there are several prominent lines formed by the cyclic pattern of trying to learn the main lessons of my life–the themes I was born with that I keep coming back to over and over. It’s as if I can’t learn the whole thing in one sitting. I learn some and walk away to assimilate. Once this is accomplished and further along the path I find myself before the same lesson, student to the next bit of information I can handle. And I walk away again to make it part of me. They are definitely life themes, and as I look back over my days I see the spiral of coming back deeper each time. It’s a pretty spiritual event for me…God definitely is an educator. 

These words sat strongly with me then, and again now, especially as I watch those lines get a little deeper and more abundant.

The text Let it Breathe, parallels what I often say to myself, Let it Go…wishing that to you today.

Between mountains

Sometimes I have no idea what I am making. Today is one of those days. I look forward to ten months from now when I will take this pile of Advent collages out of the box and look at them again. I often need time and space away from looking at the work to help me figure out if I like it and/or what it means. The collages that I “like” becomes irrelevant, it will change, I’m sure.

Advent Day Fifteen, 2015, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Fifteen, 2015, Melanie Mowinski

I have no idea where this collage came from. I don’t even know if I like it. I also don’t know if it is finished. Part of the imagery surfaced in my imagination while I was running. Maybe you can tell me what it means to you. What I will tell you is this, while I was making it I dropped into the flow, and I wish you a moment like that today and everyday.


Go out of the way…

During the week of prep for the PRESS Calendar Release Party, right after Thanksgiving, I got sick. I’m not a very good sick person. I don’t rest or sit still very well. But I tried. I even took a half sick day. When I finally arrived one of my students looked at me and said, “You must really not feel well. In the nearly five years I’ve been at MCLA you have never taken a sick day.”

Sometimes we must go out of the way to pull back and do that thing that is so hard for us to do. Feel, rest, be silent, speak up, be present.

Advent Day Fourteen, 2014

Advent Day Fourteen, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

One of the blogs I try to read regularly is My Soul in Silence Waits. The blog is a compendium of insights, quotes, prayers and ideas that has helped draw the author closer to God. Whenever an email arrives with a new post, it contains familiar voices and inspiring statements, and I want to return to it again and again. Maybe you will too. The below are writings from this recent post, reminding me to rest.

Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is not stasis but the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually, but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to become present in a different way than through action, and especially to give up on the will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we put it right; to rest is to fall back, literally or figuratively from outer targets, not even to a sense of inner accomplishment or an imagined state of attained stillness, but to a different kind of meeting place, a living, breathing state of natural exchange…
— David Whyte from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.
― Peter Heller from The Painter

Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.
― Maya Angelou from Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

I must say a word about fear…

Building on yesterday’s Let yourself feel, are these words from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.

Advent Day 13 (12-13-14), Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day 13 (12-13-14), Melanie Mowinski


I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always…So you must fight hard to express it. You might fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you. -Life of Pi, Yann Martel, p.161

Were you not always distracted

Yesterday I had a few conversations with students and friends where each of us at one point were somewhat beating ourselves up for feeling a particular way.

For the student, it’s something I hear from time to time from those who have an accommodation. Accommodations can be for a multitude of things–from social anxiety to dyslexia to migraines. The thing I hear is that they are embarrassed to tell their professor and ashamed of asking for help. For some it comes from that damn Puritan ethic. For others it comes from the different societal voices that both men and women experience that tell us to “man-up” or “you can do everything”, or if I ask for help somehow I am less adequate than others. What I try to communicate to any student in this situation is that if I know the full situation I can help make their learning environment better for them. But if I don’t know, what could be a reasonable accommodation looks like a student who just doesn’t care. We also discuss the shame a bit, and talk about ways of helping ourselves through it. Brene Brown can tell you more. 

For the friend and for myself it was feeling bad about “feeling bad” about a situation where we were “supposed” to be feeling another way. For all of us, the tendency to want to bury the feeling, hide from it, push it away, often only makes it worse. So I say, let yourself feel it, don’t dwell and wallow in it, but truly feel it, own it and then find a way to understand it and let it go.

Advent Day Twelve, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Twelve, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Rilke helps too. This translation from Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow’s, A Year with Rilke. 

Were you not always distracted by yearning,
as though some lover were about to appear?

Let yourself feel it, that yearning.
It connects you with those
who have sung it through the ages,
sung especially of love unrequited.
Shouldn’t this oldest of sufferings
finally bear fruit for us?


As a little girl, I remember being scolded for getting lost.
To this day I would argue that I was never lost, just wandering.
My mother would adamantly disagree. Even that time that I ran away, I was never lost, I knew where I was. And the time in the library, the department store, the grocery store, the fair, the amusement park, etc. etc. But we always found each other, right?

Advent Day Eleven, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Eleven, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Here’s to wandering.
What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
Women wander
As best they can.
       Maria Ponsot

Memory gems

I bet you have one, probably more. Those memories that you return to for strength and encouragement. I’d like to share one of those with you today.

In this post, I mentioned that 20 years ago I was waiting to get cleared to enter the Peace Corps. I had quit a great job in San Francisco and had moved back to live with my parents for the month prior to my departure date in mid-July,. Two weeks prior to that date, I was informed that my departure would be delayed. I needed to do a few things but once I was cleared I would be able to go. It was likely at least a six-month delay, maybe longer.

Advent Day Ten, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

Advent Day Ten, 2014, Melanie Mowinski

So here I was. Unemployed. Dejected. Annoyed. Determined to still go. Uncertain about how to spend this unknown time. So I became a Kelly Services employee and began a temp job as a proof-reader. I worked the night shift, from 3:00-midnight, looking for typos and errors in the introductory sections of the phone book. Little did I know I was learning a skill that I would use nearly every day as a letterpress printer.

I spent time as an adult with my parents and my grandmother, my mother’s mother. My grandma needed to be ferried to doctor’s appointments and other things. I helped my mom do that. My grandma and I shared meals at Arby’s and sat together watching Wheel of Fortune.

My parents and I started walking the trails of the Cuyahoga Valley trail system, a system that I didn’t even know existed even though I grew up practically on top of it. We each earned our walking sticks that fall by walking or running the required number of trails. My parents went on to earn annual badges for those sticks in subsequent years. I started seriously trail running at that time and found comfort in long-distance running and sit-ups.

Mostly I learned how to embrace uncertainty, to manage my frustration with the unknown and to hold onto faith that I was still on the right path, even if I didn’t quite understand what that path was. I also learned how to be an adult child in my parent’s home. And to see and be with them in a different way than I had as a teenager.

Then, on November 26th my grandmother passed away.

On November 29th as I was pulling on my stockings in preparation to attend her funeral, my mother called me to the phone. This moment is one of those very clear visual memories. I picked up the receiver and was informed that I was cleared to begin my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer and that I would be leaving on January 3. The whole past six months immediately made sense.

I was able to be there with my mom. I was able to go to the funeral. I was able to honor in person the woman who still to this day inspires me with her determination and perseverance and dedication to family. I learned all those other things, too. It’s likely that had I already been in the Peace Corps that I wouldn’t have been able to attend any of that.

Coincidence? Maybe. Instead, I gather strength from this. It reminds me to keep the faith, to persevere, to trust that maybe something else is at work and to do my best to be as present to the current moment as humanly possible.