Mary O’Connor has been writing all her life and it wasn’t until she retired about seven years ago, that she decided she wanted to use her gifts to make some contribution to humanity. She found a way to do that with her latest book, Life is Full of Sweet Spots-An Exploration of Joy. And it is just that. O’Connor pulls together personal stories, hers and others from around the country and beyond. Using art and imagery, poems and promise, quotes and concrete advice, along with practical information, she describes her book as a travel guide for those searching for joy. She transforms what she sees out her window in the earth, sea and sky, and the human experience, into an inspiring, practical, often heartwarming path to finding joy in the sweet spots of life.
So what is a sweet spot? Sweet spots are the extraordinary places and things in life that bring us joy and are often found among the mediocre. This book is an invitation to the journey, an ongoing, life long journey of discovery of that which makes our hearts sing. Place in text box.
When O’Connor set out to write this book, that became a four year project, she had already published a book of poetry titled Dreams of a Wingless Child. She had just retired from a long career that involved great listening skills and a variety of writing skills. She worked as a newspaper reporter and editor and in the field of communications, marketing and publicity as well as serving as the executive director for the Guilford Arts Center just before she retired. For the past seven years she has been offering poetry writing workshops to the inmates at York Correctional Institute.
This optimistic author questioned her own ability to write about joy and soon realized that finding an “expert” on the subject would be difficult. After all, it’s not as if one can major in joy at your local university. She searched on line seeking out people, many of them bloggers, who had overcome challenges in life (like so many of us) and found joy despite their hardships. She followed their blogs to see if they had something worthwhile to say and if what they had to share could be helpful to others who were experiencing difficulties of their own. Most of her contacts were more than happy to be interviewed and share their story.
“I met a lot of nice people doing this book,” says O’Connor. “I really wanted to make a contribution. My poetry book had triggered something in people. People said the poems were bringing them joy. They said, we don’t see things the way you do, looking out your window.”
She wanted her new book to show them how to find joy in nature, through their bodies, hearts and spirits. Life is Full of Sweet Spots is divided into three sections: Drawing on Nature, Tapping Into our Bodies and Stretching Our Minds and Souls. It is much more than just inspiration. It offers practical suggestions on where to go, what to do, and the resources helpful in the process. It is an invitation to discover joy in our everyday life inspired by nature, people and their stories.
In one account Barbara Parsons, a former inmate at York Correctional Institute shares her love of flowers and gardening that helped get her through her sentence at York. When a local newspaper featured Barbara’s experience of joy in sunflowers, O’Connor was impressed. “Barbara said that growing flowers brought her peace and contentment, and that enabled her to experience joy in the unlikeliest of places. It opened her mind to allow other things in. She took writing courses to fill her mind and relieve tension. She tapped into the creative side of her life. There’s a therapeutic benefit to many things in the book,” says O’Connor. “For example if you are busy with something you like, time flies by. It can take a tragedy and offer some relief to an extent.”
Tammy Hendricks was moved to create memorial teddy bears to honor a great nephew who lived only seven hours after birth. Now she makes them for other people who have lost a loved one, using their clothing or favorite blanket. With a background in counseling at a mental health center, she finds that her new avocation continues to help people in a similar way. They often write to her to share information about the person who passed away and she incorporates a sense of that person into the bear. The sense of touch experienced through a teddy bear, is an important piece of experiencing joy despite the pain of grief.
The book is full of people doing interesting things that elicits joy. The hardest part of the project for O’Connor was choosing what stories and how much information to include. It is the kind of book that you pick up and randomly open to see what you might see, rather than sitting and reading it all at once. The nuggets of wisdom are meant to be nurtured and digested over time, then put to use.
“I myself am a naturally optimistic person“, says O’Connor. “ I’m happy to have a talent for writing that I could share. I’m an active person and I was looking for something to do with the skills I have. It gave me a challenge and a way to contribute to life.”
As she began looking for people and places that led to joy, the possibilities were abundant. For that reason another book may be on the horizon. O’Connor lives along the Connecticut shoreline where she is inspired by her natural surroundings and incorporates that into her creative expression both as a writer and as an artist. For now, the author keeps painting, enjoying her own sweet spots and posting photography and thought provoking comments on her blog.