Vision’s Hard to Come By when It’s 2020

About 10 years ago, I took a workshop about Vision Boards with the lovely Lisa Lelas. If you’re not familiar with Visions Board, they are a great way to set your intentions, to work with the Law of Attraction to manifest your goals and dreams.

They’re part collage and part meditation, part craft and part reflection. You cut out pictures from magazines, add words and phrases, and include meaningful symbols to create a picture — your vision — of what you would like to see come into your life.

One of the exercises in the workshop was to think about the things that brought us joy as a child, and ways we could bring that back into our lives. I happily remembered my days as a little girl, always playing outside and exploring the woods near my house. To represent that, I cut out a woman walking outside with a contented smile on her face. The other thing I remembered was enjoying reading books and writing stories, so I cut out a picture of a desk with a stack of books and a typewriter.

Fast forward four years, and there I was, with not only a daily woods-walking habit, but publishing my first book, LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, about the experience of reconnecting with those things that brought me joy as a child!

Vision Boards can be powerful tools that way. For years, I recreated mine every December — see one version, above — setting my intentions for the new year ahead: write, travel, create, love, meditate. For years, I loved my Vision Board. Paid it daily homage with incense and incantations.

But then my best friend died suddenly, and the Universe started regularly walloping me over the head with unseen circumstances —philosophical, spiritual, political, technical, medical. And my beloved Vision Board just wasn’t cutting it.

As a matter of fact, I started to resent it.

This past December, I was telling my friend Judith about my Vision Board conundrum — surely the daily exercise of cursing my goals and dreams was not manifesting positive outcomes. That’s when she said the unthinkable:

“Take it down.”

“Take it down?” I was shocked, but I let that idea sit for a while.

And a while more.

And then, one day in January — I took everything off the Vision Board. I took down my visions of traveling, of writing and publishing, of being a yoga warrior and mediation maniac. I took down Thoreau’s reminder to “go confidently in the direction of your dreams,” because even his encouragement had been falling on frustrated, deaf ears.

At first, I felt a great loss. As if letting go of those visions was somehow letting myself down or giving up on myself. Giving up on hope, perhaps.

But then, there was a sense of relief. Like some pressure had been released or the volume turned down.

As if, for a while, it was OK to just be.

As if it was OK to just get up and attend to the day as the day presented itself. To live in the present.

I’ve been reminded of this exercise lately, as we settle into this new way of being in the world, as we learn to let go of our visions and our dreams for our immediate futures here in 2020. As we change our expectations to match these strange, crazy times.

It is OK to just be.

For now, it really is OK to just be.

Today, five months after my Vision Board experiment and almost three months into the Covidpause, my Vision Board sits nearly blank on a wall in my office. Nearly blank except for this: Anything is Possible, Gratitude, Be Happy, Play.


Essay ©2020, Jen Payne. Anything is Possible by artist Melissa Harris.


In Which Emily Got Baked and More…

I hope you are healthy, doing well, and able to adapt in some manner to our current day-to-day.

It’s interesting to me that while we are all going through the same thing, this COVID-19 pandemic, each of us is experiencing it in different ways. Our physical health, our mental health, the well-being of our family, our finances, the lack of social interaction, how we feel about uncertainty — each of these contributes to our unique, personal experience.

So how are you dealing with your experience of COVID-19?

I will tell you that I have one friend who is cooking and gardening daily. Another has been purging and decluttering since March. One has filled every moment of every day with physical activities — yard work, house repairs, minor construction projects. And another is simply comatose.

I’m somewhere in between all of that — a hodge-podge of creative projects, housecleaning, attempts at self-care, mask-covered errands, and deep, deep, dream-fill sleep.

“My grandmother once gave me a tip: In difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little. Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup. You see? You are advancing step by step. Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself. Take another step. Then another. You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more. And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.” – Elena Mikhalkova, Midwives of the Soul

hodge-podge /ˈhäjˌpäj/ noun 1. a muddled-together bunch of stuff; 2. a dialectical concept in Discordianism that posits that the tendency for restriction and control in society is matched proportionately by a counter-resulting tendency for chaos and randomness, and vice-versa.

Hodge-podge, also: an unorganized group of items. Like this newsletter…in which I thought I’d just pull together some odds and ends for you to consider…

Emily Got Baked

In celebration of National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo I wrote a poem a day. You can read all 30 of them here, then join me as I cap off the celebration by baking Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Quick Break. (recipe)

Barefoot in the Kitchen

This extended pause in our regularly scheduled programming has found me more and more in the kitchen. Emily’s cake is the most recent creation. But I also tried my hand at some of these recipes you might want to check out yourself!

Mango Cocktails
Coconut Cake
Balsamic Roast Beef
Coffee Cake
Parker’s Beef Stew

Red meat, alcohol, and cake – a holy trinity.


Ina Garten is my go-to food guru, as you can tell from the number of her recipes above, but I confess…I have more recently been inspired by Mr. Stanley Tucci. As you may recall — see “Waiting for Stanley Tucci” — I’m a big fan.

Apparently, so is the whole rest of the world now, after this yummy video of Mr. Tucci’s evening cocktail hour.

Negroni anyone?

Combine equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass; stir gently and garnish with an orange twist.


Speaking of vicarious…This month, on Random Act of Writing, we’re taking a little Road Trip. Want to get out of the house and take a trip vicariously? ROAD TRIP: BIG BEND starts up on Monday!

Final Realizations

We are seven weeks into this pause, with at least three more weeks to go before things slowly begin to open back up.

These are difficult times, certainly. But if you’re able to — savor them and remember them. Remember the time spent doing things you enjoy, that extra time with your loved ones, the pleasure of making a meal or taking a nap, the inner strength you found to deal with your circumstances.

Because before you know it, that big machine is going to start churning again, and we might be seduced back to the way things were before…maybe.

Or maybe we’ll start to make some changes…

“In the bad, we find the good,” writes British performance artist and poet Tom Foolery, who created a thoughtful video called The Great Realisation.

I’ll leave you with that to think on as we step bravely into the next month and into our next chapter.

Take good care and be well…

If you’re looking for something new to read, my books (now available in print and as ebooks) can be purchased from my ETSY SHOP. Bonus: they come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Books Creativity Memoir

The Big Picture

Recently, my friend DeLinda gave me a paint-by-numbers set. But this is not your stiff, childhood red barn or Venice gondola paint-by-numbers, no no no. This is a brilliantly colored, wild-stroked, Bohemian cow painting.

Of course, there are a lot of steps to get from the detailed, numbered canvas to the realized final effect. To get from here to the big picture, if you will. The challenge of that is not lost on me — nor on DeLinda, who is always good at throwing down a subtle but effective test of my self-perceived limitations.

And who, right now, doesn’t have self-perceived limitations? This gauntlet of a challenge — colloquially known as COVID-19, scientifically considered a Pandemic, and psychologically in tune with the end of the world as we know it — is testing all of our skills: emotional, psychological, organizational, financial. Are we able to deal with this? And how?

Even more difficult is the fact that none of us has a clear picture of what this looks like when it’s over. Which brings me back to the paint-by-numbers.

This awesome paint-by-numbers kit would be a challenge for a trained artist, never mind someone like me who doesn’t have much experience at all. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my experience of this project with you so far — a broad-brush glimpse of how we come wired with the ability to adjust and adapt, even if we don’t think we do.

The first paint is a pale shimmery blue that does. not. cover. over. the. numbers. This gives me a lot of anxiety. And, it makes me really angry. Shouldn’t it cover over the numbers? Why wouldn’t it? Maybe I’m not doing it right. Or maybe I am the worst human on the planet…at best, a little over-emotional right now. So I close up the paint, clean the brushes, turn off the light for the day.

We move from pale blue to pale gray, and I realize quickly that following the implied rules of this — applying pale gray only to the number 2 spaces — is next to impossible. It’s messy already, and I am coloring all over the lines. Outside of the lines! And I’m just not doing this right. So I close up the paint, clean the brushes, turn off the light for the day.

Pale gray to medium gray brings an understanding that each paint layers onto the next. Everything happens for a reason. Solutions don’t always show up right away. With that acceptance, there evolves a somewhat nicer pace to the process. Paint a little. Wait for it to dry. Paint a little. Wait for it to dry. Work a little. Rest a little. Work a little. Rest a little.

Slate gray is a strong color, and brings with it a certain confidence. It takes care of some of those early mistakes and disregards the messy strokes. Slate gray has a can-do spirit, and I find that I’m much braver with my brush strokes now.

My first brush stroke with paint #5, a bluish gray, lands smack in the middle of a #6 space, but I roll with it. No one is going to know, or care for that matter, if a 6 space is painted color 5. It’s time to get over myself. And it’s time to get over some of these expectations that make things harder than they need to be. Breathe. Relax. Paint. Then clean the brushes, turn off the light for the day.

Paint #6 is white paint. White. And I immediately have PTSD flashbacks of paint #1, that pale, translucent blue and the show-through numbers. But by now, I’ve adapted. I’ve learned some new brushstrokes and paint tricks that cover over the numbers. Now I’m just painting liberally over lines, blending into other spaces, layering paint impasto on top of numbers. Come what way!

Last night, I painted all of the #7 spaces with a happy yellow paint. I made small, flower-petal strokes, and big, flamboyant messy ones. I blended here and stippled there. I’m in the groove now, even if the canvas is just a mass of messy paint splotches. Does it look like a cow yet? No. Is it even pretty yet? No. Will it ever be? Doubtful. But man, that yellow sure is happy.


I find my reaction to the paint-by-numbers project mirrors, somewhat, my experience of the pandemic, a roller coaster ride of responses similar to those outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And make no mistake, we are grieving. If not the loss of a family member or loved one, then a loss of work, income, companionship, routine, our sense safety and what’s normal.

Understanding those stages of grief, understanding our reactions to what is happening around us, is critical to our mental health — even if we can’t see or know what the big picture looks like yet.

In an article on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network website, psychiatric nurse practitioner Andrew Penn writes: “The five stages of grief…are a useful map as we transit through the uncharted emotional aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” His 3-part series “Navigating the Emotions of a Pandemic” is a must-read if you or someone you know is struggling to cope with this current state of the world. Check it out in the LINKS below.

Penn ends his first article with a beautifully appropriate poem by Pablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet.” I’ll leave you with this, then, and my heartfelt hope that you are safe, healthy, and able to find your own creative path through this wild journey.

With Love,

Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.


Navigating the Emotions of a Pandemic
The 5 Stages of Grief as a Framework for the Journey
Making Room for Grief During COVID-19<
The Search for Acceptance and Meaning in COVID-19

Other Interesting Links

Branford Land Trust – for nature activities, outdoor things to do, and places to visit
Good News Network – an alternate source for headline news
Guilford Art Center – watch for a new online learning section coming soon
Guilford Poets Guild – celebrating April’s National Poetry Month and more
Hope for Paws – where I go when I need a happy ending
Pediatrics Plus – for ways to manage the COVID-19 shutdown with your family

“Understand there’s no right or wrong
way to grieve, including anticipatory grief.
It’s like the ocean. It ebbs and it flows.”

― Dana Arcuri, Sacred Wandering: Growing Your Faith In The Dark

Books Creativity Poetry

14 – Pandemic Mechanics

I’m trying to imagine
the giant mechanism
my homunculus
must maneuver each morning,
how enormous the
the weights and counterweights,
the mile-thick ropes and pulleys,
necessary to close off this reality


close off this reality
just enough so I get out of bed,
do my hair, make coffee
right-side up instead of
upside down like it feels
when I peer through the crack,
one eye closed or cautious squint
knowing I have the privilege to ask

is it safe to come out?

what’s for dinner today?

do I have time for another poem?


Poem ©2020, Jen Payne. National #NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Creativity Poetry

2 – Soap

It’s a small bar,
tucks into my hand
smooth and white

I’ve pulled it from
its palm-tree wrapper
the one that tells me
in small letters
Soap – Savon – Jabón

It smells like Cape Cod,
that hotel room
with the view of water,
the southern wind
just off the beach,
the cedar trees,
and fresh-washed towels,

so I sing more than 20 seconds —
maybe 40 or 60 seconds —
long enough to stay until
the sun lifts up
and I recognize the day,
my self maybe too,
in a mirror so far away.


This poem was featured as part of POETS OF THE PANDEMIC on the website Headline Poetry & Press, April 16, 2020.

©2020, Jen Payne. National #NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Creativity Poetry

1 – Level Up!

He was a giant black dog

wooly from toes to eyes

— if he had them —

and every morning

on my way to school

at the end of the street

he would race down his driveway



……………full speed

………………..and full bark

full enough to scare anyone

most especially my 11-year-old self

who hadn’t quite figured out

what to do with her monsters yet

except run, run, run.


Then His name is Sam,

a voice yelled from a dark, dusty window

in the gray house set back from the road,

Sam, it rolled down the driveway

and across my path, a magic coin,

a power token, password — SAM

and I knew exactly what to do!


The next morning, I bravely stood,

hands on hips and waited

David me for Goliath he

at the end of his driveway

waited and waited and waited

until Sam came out,



……………full speed

………………..and full bark

SAM, SIT! I yelled as loudly as I could


And then he sat.

And I did too.

First monster vanquished. Level up!


©2020, Jen Payne. National #NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gift.

Creativity Living Wellness

Blessing Shout Out!

I fell in love with this fabulous Self-Soothing graphic! Isn’t it wonderful?

Know what’s event better? The lovely Miss Dominee at Blessing Manifesting who created this fab artwork. Are you anxious, worried, scared, sad? There a blessing for that!

Needing a little self-care, some mental health boosters, positive affimations? There are blessings for that, too!

She even wrote this great article about “Managing Anxiety About the Corona Virus.”

Please visit BLESSING MANIFESTING now. What a treat in these dark and twisty times!


Creativity Living Wellness

Calm Down

calm down
what happens
happens mostly
without you


Poem and image, Homage to the Square: Blue & Green, by Josef Albers.
Creativity Living Wellness

Coping in Our Genes

This is my grandfather, Henry Clay Payne, posing in Okinawa, 1945. The photo was taken about a month or so before his ship was torpedoed and then sunk by a kamikaze. He was one of 152 men killed that day, four days after my Dad’s second birthday.

He’s been on my mind since I read the article “These Royal Navy Submariners Know A Thing or Two About Isolation,” by BuzzFeed correspondent Tom Warren. Blame it on the vintage, black and white navy photos, I guess — since Henry Payne was neither in the Royal Navy nor on a submarine. Still, I imagine that he — floating somewhere in the East China Sea, away from his wife and young son and daughter — might have offered up similar suggestions:

Routine, routine, routine!
“Develop a routine quickly and stick to it….This means giving yourself breaks, permission to relax, and times when you’ll focus on work.”

“In order to be mentally alert you need to be physically alert.”

Eat healthy.
“If you eat badly your serotonin will drop and you will go into depression.”

Start something new.
“Keep your mind active… With no commute, you’ve just cut down on a load of non-value added time. You can use it to take up a new hobby.”

Keep talking — and joking.
“Conversation is really important, it keeps you and your friends informed. Laugh at anything. At this moment when stress is high, it’s really important you don’t stress the little things.”

The other reason Henry Payne has been on my mind is that this pandemic is pretty scary stuff. Probably the scariest thing I remember, really. But my grandparents’ story reminds me that the world has faced things like this before — global crises like when Henry went to war, and my grandmother raised two young children on her own. There was fear and anxiety, isolation, and an undeniable sense that their world had changed. But they found ways to cope. All of our families found ways to cope back then. And we will too. It’s what we do, right?

So stick with a routine. Exercise and eat healthy. Keep your mind active. Keep talking, and hold on tight to that sense of humor until we see it through.

Take care.

©2020, Jen Payne. With quotes from the BuzzFeed Article “These Royal Navy Submariners Know A Thing or Two About Isolation,” Tom Warren.
Creativity Living Wellness

Coping Tools

I hope this blog post finds you safe and healthy, with a good selection of coping tools at the ready. Goodness know we need them right now.

My coping tools include reading escapist fiction, keeping creative, taking long naps, and maintaining some semblance of a normal routine with my business and my writing. If you’re like me, work offers a familiar place to settle into when the world outside is swirling too fast and crazy to recognize.

While we wait in this holding pattern, I’ll be posting regularly here on Random Acts of Writing, trying to share words of wisdom, coping strategies, and the saving grace of humor when possible.

Like this. This lovely piece of wisdom I saw online this week. During this time of social distancing and quarantines, ask yourself:

  • What am I grateful for today?
  • Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
  • What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
  • How am I getting outside today?
  • How and I moving my body today?
  • What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?

Please share your responses below in the comment field.

Here are mine:

What am I grateful for today?
I am grateful for my health and the sweet network of friends helping to keep me in the moment.

Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
Today I have phone dates with my old college roommate Melissa and my friend Judith.

What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
I try not to think about Normal right now. When it sneaks into my thoughts, I remind myself to be present and just right here.

How am I getting outside today?
Hoping to take a short walk in the woods this afternoon.

How and I moving my body today?
Yoga this morning at 4, PT exercises for my knee a little later.

What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
I find I keep saying the Serenity Prayer, not so much to keep me calm, but to remind myself what I can change (me) and what I can’t change (everything else).

Please be well and stay safe.