Stephanie’s Blog

Posted in Storytelling

Waiting and Hoping For Jeannie Stein

childhood in countryside

Friends nourish us by seeing our goodness when our own eyes are clouded.

I’ll never forget my 5th grade friend. It was Steck Elementary, a new school in a new neighborhood and I didn’t know anyone. The very first lunch break of the very first day found me sitting by myself in the lunchroom eating a sandwich my mom had packed for me. There was hardly anyone there. That’s because the kids at Steck all went home for lunch. It was uncool to eat in the lunchroom.

I didn’t finish my sandwich. I walked around the playground and watched the kids come back from their “at-home” lunches and gather in groups. Boys congregated by the fence and the monkey bars. Girls played a game called Four Square. A ball came flying at me from the Four Square games, and I dodged it just in time. The girls playing the game were staring at me. “Throw it back,” one of them yelled. I picked up the ball, but when I threw it, it went off to the side, bounced and hit a piece of playground equipment, then rolled several feet away from the Four Square game. The girls laughed at me, shook their heads, and I heard one of them say “a real knucklehead,” which made them all laugh more.

That was an all is lost moment. I fought back tears. I hated this school. Why did my mom always have to move us when she got a new job? I turned away from the laughing, balled up my fists and jammed them into my jacket pockets.

I felt her standing there before I turned around and saw her. With confidence and comfort, a little girl with thick glasses and a big smile eyes looped her arm with mine and pull me away from the side of the building. “Four Square is so stupid,” she said. “I’m Jeannie Stein. Have you ever been a Girl Scout?” And thus began a friendship that assuaged the pain of being the new kid.

What I didn’t know then, was that welcoming the stranger is a core principal of Judaism and Jeannie Stein was a Jew, but I found that out when the Girl Scout question led me to a meeting room at her temple. When I finally learned the piece about welcoming the stranger, I was in my 40’s. Memory transported me back to 10-year old Jeannie Stein, the kind little girl who had welcomed me when I was a stranger.

I didn’t get to know her for more than a year, because my mom got another job, and we moved again. But for a year, being friends with Jeannie Stein was like having another home. We played Barbies together when I was starting to feel like maybe I was too old to still be playing with dolls. She was the last little girl that I ever played dolls with. When she looped her arm through mine that day, I didn’t know that we’d be crossing a bridge together, one that led from childhood to something else.

I’ve been the new kid quite a few times since that day in the 5th grade, most recently, since my husband and I moved to Austin. It was a courageous thing that we did, uprooting and transplanting ourselves in a matter of months.
A big move is filled with risk, unknowns and excitement. Eventually, I’d adapt. I’d discover the best grocery store, the favorite restaurant, the closest bookstore. But just like it was in 5th grade, my biggest concern was whether I could make new friends. The feeling of being the new kid, standing alone on the playground comes back. My eyes are searching the horizon for a Jeannie Stein. Under the big Texas sky, my current and closest relationships currently amount to repairmen and contractors.

Women are social creatures. We need each other’s company in order to thrive. In this new place I’ve been taunted by thoughts that all the friendships have already been made, that women are already coupled and in groups and there wouldn’t be room for me. That proved not true, of course, but I had to muster the courage to reach out.

On a website called Next Door, a resource for individual neighborhoods, I posted that I’d like to find a writing group or a book group. In less than 24 hours I had 5 responses from people who shared my interests. The response that touched me the most was from a young woman who wrote that she’d moved here in April and hadn’t made any friends yet. Then added, “How do you make friends when you’re a grown up?” I reached back to her with an invitation for coffee, but she never responded. It made me think that perhaps she didn’t really want new friends, that she was closed off to them.

My new Jeannie Stein showed up in the form of a woman named Melinda who’d asked for a phone conversation. I learned that she was a 7th generation Texan who had horses and a book group, a perfect combination for a Texan in my eyes. In her gentle drawl that was as sweet as dripping honey, she extended an invitation to join her group. Metaphorically, she looped her arm through mine and I knew that everything was going to be okay.

What we learned as children continues to inform us, regardless of how grown up, sophisticated, or world wise we think we are.

Melinda told me that the book we’d discuss at the book group is Educated, by Tara Westover. Westover’s book is now a part of my extended Jeannie Stein story. The book is a memoir about self-invention and becoming the best kind of human being that you can be. I’m hoping that I will be a good friend and remember to reach out to the stranger in the same way that the Jeannie Stein’s of the world have reached out to me.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A Story About the Awkward Dance of Halloween Guilt and Fitting In

 

My new neighborhood reminds me of the opening credits in Desperate Housewives.  Behind the beautiful front doors, the manicured lawns, and the gentle southern curb appeal, most certainly lurk all kinds of stories with a sharper edge. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Recently transplanted to southern Texas, by way of Ashland, Oregon, we don’t really know anyone yet. Aside from walking our dog, our days consist of digging through unending boxes and looking for a place to put things. Consequently there is no television hooked up yet to numb our brains at the end of the day. So Dean and I spend our evenings sitting on the front porch, talking in whispers and wonderings about this new place we’ve moved to.

Directly across the street from us is Richard. (All names have been changed in order to cover my ass and protect the innocent.) Richard walks Domino, a black Portuguese water dog.  On the day that we first said “hi” to one another, I commented about the plethora of inflatable ghosts and goblins, dozens of pumpkins and skeletons that seemed to be reproducing themselves on his front lawn. It’s a veritable blow up doll convention out there.

“My wife,” he said. And then followed it with “Wait until Christmas,” a comment that left me with a little shudder.

The man has three daughters and a wife who is obviously determined to give her kids happy childhood memories.  But as the object of my fascination, Kinky Friedman, once said “A happy childhood is the worst preparation for life.”

The neighbor next door to them have two boys.  They throw the football in the evening causing Dean to recount his childhood: always in a relationship with a ball game with other boys — football, baseball, basketball, come over for a catch, kind of days. I never tire of those stories, imagining my 67-year-old husband as an 11-year-old with fresh eyes, a dimpled grin and a fair amount of mischief that he never lost.

Stella is the mother to those boys. I met her when she was walking Lennon, named after John. If not for my dog Jeter, it might take me months to meet and greet the neighbors, but a goofy Labrador retriever is a ticket to an introduction. A few minutes of canine sniffing gives time for an exchange of names and a sincere welcome to the neighborhood. Stella’s yard is decorated for Halloween too, but not crazy over the top, over compensating for something decorated, like Richard’s yard.

Dean and I speculate about the lives here, the intersection of old and young, reckless and measured, all of it with a Texan texture and the smell of barbecue in the air. Welcome to Austin, a fun and foreign land.

“Do you think that we’ve bought enough Halloween trick or treat stuff to give out” I ask him.

“It doesn’t matter. The neighborhood kids are going to hate you anyway because you’re giving out little bags of pretzels and popcorn. You know the holiday is all about the candy, right?”

“What about healthy treats?” He rolls his eyes. “Am I going to be that old woman whose trees the kids in the neighborhood wrap in toilet paper because she doesn’t give out Snickers at Halloween?”

He shrugs. “Maybe.”

I’d hate to wake up to that the morning after. Especially since we just gave our yard got some autumn love this past week, a toned down version of Halloween blow up dolls. We planted winter-hardy pansies and mini snapdragon.  I placed three baskets of mums on our porch and an autumn wreath on the front door. I put out a couple of pumpkins. I confess to putting out fake ones, having dealt with the carnage wrought by aggressive squirrels over the years. It all looks very tasteful and welcoming. Then again, maybe my decor is screaming that I’m giving out stupid bags of popcorn for Halloween.

A car pulls into a driveway a few doors down from us and I wave. The driver waves back. “Have you met her?” Dean asks me.

“No, I just want to be friendly in case all the neighborhood kids wind up hating me for giving them pretzels and popcorn for Halloween.”

“Or if you write about this on your blog.”

“That will take longer to discover than the fact that I’m not giving out candy,” I say.

We sit in silence, lost in our thoughts about the lives of polite people in a polite neighborhood that is showing signs of straining at the seams from too many blow-up dolls. Not giving out candy could potentially add to the strain. I’m pissed off that fitting in means so much to me. I hate blow-up dolls and I hate the idea of loading up kids with sugar. But my stomach lurches and before the evening is over, I know I will succumb. I’ll  run to Costco tomorrow and buy a bunch of candy to mix in with the healthy treats. That and a glass of hard cider should assuage the Halloween guilt and discomfort.

Happy Halloween!

Posted in A Day In the Life

Looking for Kinky Friedman

top of wood table and party light of bokeh in bar at night backgroundMy decision was really a whim. I didn’t think it through — I just knew that I wanted it. “I’m on a quest,” I told my husband and my friends, “to meet Kinky Friedman.”

It seemed like a good goal, given that we were moving to Austin, Texas. This was the place where Kinky had once made his stand. As I started to put things into boxes, Kinky bumped against something in my brain and I became obsessed with him. This was more than just a quest, it was an invitation from my psyche.

When we decided to make the move, it was because of the smoke that clogged our little valley in the summer months. For the past weeks, I couldn’t see, couldn’t breath for all that smoke. I became sick and sluggish. I felt trapped and stuck, but not just physically. I felt that way about my writing. And I felt that way about the unrelenting scandal, corruption and wreckage that filled the national news. I think the whole country was experiencing idiot fatigue, the kind of weariness that comes from so many grown-up men giving away their nuts. The result was a sickening lack of courage to stand up for anything, let alone the “right thing.” The move to Austin was a yet unformed promise of liberation from all thing blocking my view. It gave me hope, and a reason to unplug from the news. I’d pack up the television and lose myself in the whimsy of finding Kinky Friedman.

People asked me over and over again, “Why Austin?” I didn’t have much of an answer. I said things like, “They have a great music scene. I like the rolling hills. Warm weather is appealing to these old bones.” But I didn’t really know why Austin. Was it because I might possibly find Kinky Friedman? Could I be drawn to Austin because of a greater rising that was beginning to happen in the Lone Star state — a new nation being birthed, while I again, was experiencing a rebirth, too?

Once, a long time ago, when I was a 20-something, I’d met Kinky. He brushed by me in the hallway at NBC studios. I worked for a television show called The Midnight Special. It was on at 11:30 on Friday nights, hosted by Wolfman Jack, who started out each show with a deep, booming declaration: “Let the midnight special shine its ever lovin’ light on you.”

Armed with a hit record, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys were guests on The Midnight Special. They sang irreverent songs with political overtones. All messages are made more palatable through the activism of laughter. His popular anthem, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore, was a memorable sing-along ode to anti-racism. That was long before any of us could imagine MTV, cable television or the likes of a Stephen Colbert. I’d thought that Kinky was hysterically funny. But he was also brilliant, a Mark Twain of the times, dressed up in the 1970’s. He said and sang what was on his mind, without worry about what others thought. He was genuine. And I wanted to possess that same kind of smart, funny, edge that made him so interesting. There was a time when I had it, when I felt it.

In that part of my life, I drank hard and stayed up all night listening to music. I wrote poetry and lyrics. I wrote my first short stories with a sharp wit that wasn’t afraid to make fun of things in the word that seemed hypocritical or otherwise disingenuous. There was in me a sense of wild mischief and quirk. But as the years went by, I started to care too much about what other people thought of me, how I was seen. I tried harder than anyone I’d ever met to “get my act together.” The result was that I broke off that wild and quirky piece of myself and buried along the road somewhere. I developed a sense of pride that I’d worked my ass off to become a responsible, upstanding citizen and contributing member of the community. So I forgot about Kinky, except to note he was still making music, and had also became a novelist who cranked out a lot of murder mysteries.

Life happens on more than one level at a time. Moving to Austin was now part of a search for the edgy kid of my 20’s. It was also a bold statement of my 60’s. Hubby and I saw this as a great adventure — doing a huge interstate move at a time when most people are downsizing, simplifying and slowing. I’ve taken risks before and the risks were always worth it, even when I seemingly failed. It wasn’t that I wanted to relive that earlier time, but I knew it was crucial for me to pull it forward to where I was now. Kinky Friedman became my symbol for that, a light that would help me rediscover that sense of wild again.

So where to look for this 74-year-old Texas icon? A bar in Austin? His animal preserve in San Antonio? To start, I bought his book, Armadillos and Old Lace. That might give me a clue. Then, I started to think about what I would say to him if I actually found him.

I pictured myself sitting in a bar in Austin, ordering a soda water and lime, and pretending that it was vodka on the rocks. I imagined leaning forward and asking the bartender if he knew who Kinky Friedman was. I’d tell him that I was on a quest to meet the musician, writer, and political activist. The bartender would nod toward a stage, where outlined in the smoky haze would be a guy tuning a guitar with a cigar in one hand.

I’d walk up to the stage. “Do you remember being on The Midnight Special in the 1970’s?” I’d ask. “Do you remember the young secretary on the show back then, the kind of funny one?”

He’d shake his head no and look perplexed.

“I guess it doesn’t matter if you remember her or not, I’m just looking for her, is all . . .”

“You might check somewhere down that road between happiness and despair,” he’d say, quoting one of his novels.

Then again, the bartender might just shrug at my question and say, “Everyone knows who Kinky Friedman is.” When pressed, he’d answer that he’d “never met the guy personally.” And I’d walk away remembering that I had met him personally, once when I was of a quicker wit, a faster step, and sharper edge. It was back in the days when the vodka in my glass would have been real and irreverent poetry was the prayer on my lips.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Changing Summer

The smoky skies of Ashland have cleared enough that I can go for a walk with the dog without coming home and coughing. Nothing like reacting negatively to environmental smoke to get you to appreciate breathing! The past couple of months have been challenging. I’ve been blessed to experience most of my life in fitness and in health, but the smoke  from surrounding forest fires that lingers in the valley over the summer months attacked me this year, putting health and well-being out of reach.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been trapped inside. . . a lot. And the thing I missed the most was spending time on the deck hammock, looking up into the oak tree and getting lost in the patches of sun and sky that filtered through the leaves. Whereas summer used to mean home-made popsicles on the front porch and harvesting herbs, now it means staying inside and changing the air filter.

This summer tale is not just mine. It’s becoming all too familiar a story. The climate is changing and when temperatures rise, ideal conditions for forest fires rise too. I fear that this is the new normal for the west. What’s equally as sad is that there are things we could be doing to help the situation. But it will take government and organization and a willingness to listen to scientists who’ve been studying the problem. My greatest hope is that we find the courage to take action. Action number one: Vote out any idiot who doesn’t think that Climate Change is real! That’s at least a start.

Posted in A Day In the Life

You Can Be Super Without Having to Be Superwoman!

One of the things that I remember from the 1980’s about being a strong, independent woman was this phrase: “you can have it all.” Turns out you really couldn’t have it all. What the phrase honestly meant was, “you can do it all.” You can raise kids, have a career, take care of a home, volunteer and have the time and energy to bake Martha Stewart cookies on the weekend .

My life looked more like this: work a 65 hour week, collapse on Friday night. Be grateful that I don’t have kids. Drag my yaya to the grocery store on Saturday morning. Sleep all day Sunday, then get up and do it again. Screw homemade cookies. And what was amazing was that around me were lots of women who did have kids and managed far better than I could without them. Most of the women I knew back then were always on the edge of burnout. Because, we wanted to have it all.

Fast forward to present time and another insidious phrase is clawing its way into the psyche of the culture and it’s STILL about “You can do it all.” It refers to superwoman and their superpowers. Seems like everyone has a breast-plate and a friggin’ super power. I think women today have it only slightly better than my generation did — if they’re with a partner, chances are the division of labor is more equitable than it was in the 1980’s. Except that you have to allow for a wave of women raising kids on their own without any physical or emotional support from the outside. We can call these women superwomen with super powers, but sometimes I fear that saying is just a way to make women feel bad that they can’t do everything and have any energy or balance left at all.

Could it be as simple as redefining the words and phrases that we use? Does strength and courage have to mean bad-ass? Or can it mean standing up when you get kicked down, even if your knees are skinned? Can independence mean saying “no” to some of the stuff you didn’t want to take on in the first place?

I’m retired now, but I haven’t let that stop me from grasping at the same kind of drive that I had in my thirties — the one that told me I could have it all. Though I now have the time to write, read and study, I do so with a ferocious discipline that puts me back in a time and a place where I believed that I was supposed to WANT it all, let alone, have it all.

Recently I’ve begun to think that if I really could have it all; if one day I was awarded it all, would I know what to do with it? That thought gives me pause and makes me consider my Labrador retriever: if you catch the squirrel buddy, what are you going to do with it?

I have to remind myself . . . a lot . . . that life is never meant to be one giant “To Do’ list. It’s meant to be an experience of the senses and an enlivening of the heart — if I could remember that, I think that the rest would probably just fall into place. Maybe that’s what courage really is.

Posted in memories

The Size of a Parakeet’s Heart

Budgerigar in the its cage. Budgie

Breakfast happened in a sunny corner of the kitchen on a plastic tablecloth whose flowered print had faded in spots from the sun and the plates that scraped across its surface. The table was pushed against the windows, and looked over a struggling garden in which I had once planted the watermelon seeds saved from a late summer afternoon. When the green shoots found their way up into the light, turning into vines, I imagined opening a watermelon stand and selling pieces of fresh watermelon to all of my neighbors. My enterprise was cut short, however, when something ate the vines, shredding their leaves into skinny, little pieces.

My mother kept a row of potted geraniums on the table. Red flowers bloomed almost year round in a world that was mostly bright colors and sunshine. Part of that brightness was Penny. She was my first true love, my first true friend, a parakeet dressed in exotic green, accented by dark veins of blue feathers. Each morning my mother would open the door to Penny’s cage, and the little bird would fly a couple of times around the room, lighting onto the table in front of my breakfast plate, chirping while she waited for me to feed her bits of unbuttered toast. Sometimes she would hop onto my shoulder as I ate.

Every day when I got home from school, I checked to make sure that she had birdseed and clean water. I wasn’t allowed to let her out unless my mom was there, but I gave her what felt like a lot of my six-year-old attention, crooning, whistling and singing to her. During the times that she was free to fly around, she would always make her way to me, resting upon my hand and hopping up and down the length of my arm. We had our own special way of telling each other: I love you.

One day my mom and I came home to the smell of paint. I knew that the landlord was having all of the kitchens in our row of duplexes painted. We had shopped the week before for new dishtowels and potholders to go with the freshly painted kitchen. I hadn’t realized that the paint would smell so bad though, and I held my nose as I went to check on Penny. But something was wrong. Penny didn’t move. She sat motionless on her perch with her head resting inside of a bell that hung off of the mirror in her cage. “Penny?” I shook the cage and she fell. “NO!”

I heard my mother’s sad voice as she rushed to see what was wrong: “Oh, Penny,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“What happened to her?” I asked.

“I think the paint fumes were too much for her,” she said. “The painters didn’t think to put her cage outside and she died.”

No one in my life had ever died before. I knew other children who’d told me that their grandma or grandpa died, or that their dog died, but I didn’t understand what it meant. Something pierced my heart, a feeling of absence so fierce that my whole body hurt.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye.” I said.

I wasn’t sure where Penny had gone, only that she wasn’t in her bird body anymore. My mother helped me to give Penny a funeral, wrapping her in a scarf and burying her in the garden outside the kitchen window. I marked her little grave with rocks that I placed in a careful circle around the newly turned earth.

For days, I tried to cry the ache away, and then one day the loss no longer consumed me. Eventually we put up the new dishtowels and potholders. We moved to another duplex, another apartment, another town. The years between Penny and I grew wide with the passing of time.  Now, as my hands and feet begin to wizen, I recall this story and write it down. I  still have tears left for Penny and the life lesson that she imparted:  Love, even the size of a parakeet’s heart is eternal.

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Birthday Selfie – Reflections on 66!

IMG_1852Today I’m 66 years old. The number seems wrong. It can’t possibly be true that the group of people with grayer hair and deeper lines are the same ones who walked with me out of childhood. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in Topanga Canyon? Last week that we were listening to The Eagles new album and drinking margaritas?

My friends are precious to me, some known for 40 and 50 years. They’re the source of birthday cards and calls, emails and birthday lunches. Gestures of love scatter like almond blossoms across a well-worn path, and I feel blessed that it’s the small, heart-felt things that have come to mark the years.

The past and the future colloid: I’m rooted in the longhaired, idealistic girl with bare feet and poetry on her lips; now the serious writer, with wool socks and messy pages, trying to tell “the” story, because honestly, I’ve only ever written one story. My life has grown out of that place where idealism and reality crash into each other, and the current takes you.  Marriage, career, divorce, marriage again happened in a kind of planned chaos, but let me live to tell the tale.

I’m 66 years old and keenly aware of how life recedes as the numbers increase, aware of wavering significance and limited hours. So many things fall away, and what remains is the fullness of the experience; the gratitude alive in the heart, the old friends from a certain time and place who remind me of where I’ve been.

Today my true companion, my one great love, will sing to me. We’ll wander the aisles of the gardening center and gather flowering plants for the empty containers on our deck. We’ll hold hands. We are that older couple that makes young people sigh, envying the kind of love that survives the journey.

This morning, as I drink my tea and muse about the years, I reach an easy conclusion: I love my life. I love my friends. I’m grateful for each turning of the wheel, for each memory, for each deep line etched into the map on my face, telling a story of so much joy, so much pain, so much living . . . I’m blessed to able to say, “this is a very happy birthday, indeed.”

Posted in A Day In the Life

What We Say and How We Say It, Matters

The courage to speak out is not reserved for leaders and warriors, business people or celebrity. Sometimes the message comes from a common individual, who is willing to push back against the norm to shed light on what is wrong and troubling.

At least, that’s the pep talk I’ve been giving myself. Recently, I summoned the courage to confront someone about their hateful words. I believe in free speech, but I also believe that we should be vigilant in our businesses and organizations to encourage kind speech, and discourage hateful speech. Words can be used to communicate and uplift, or they can be used to hurt and destroy.

You don’t have to look too far in this country to see the creeping normalcy of name-calling and insults used to describe fellow humans. Worse, you don’t have to look too far to see that people will condone this kind of behavior with excuses like “he’s just passionate” or she’s just being authentic.” And what of silence and inaction? Isn’t that condoning too?

We live in coarse times where “please” and “thank you” are little remembered relics of a distant past. And what about “I’m sorry?” Does anyone pause anymore to reflect upon his or her own behavior, reconsider and apologize? It seems like doubling down is more the order of the day and that it comes with no regard for conscience. I don’t know how I would have celebrated 30 years of marriage without an apology readied on my lips, but I digress. . .

This short piece could be about our political climate, but really it’s about a microcosm of that climate in my personal life.  Harsh and hateful language caused me  to call out someone I worked with in a volunteer organization. The words were not directed at me. They were used to describe and elderly couple who had volunteered for our organization. The couple hadn’t committed any crime other than being at the low-end of the economic ladder. What they were called and how they were described would cause me embarrassment to write.

In speaking up I realized that I was not going to be able to rise to the occasion of the organization’s mission being more important to me than basic human decency, so I left. I quit. And it’s in the aftermath of my decision of doing what I believed was the right thing, that I now grieve the loss that comes with such a choice.

Courage is not born of emotional or physical strength. It’s often demonstrated in the throes of fear. It includes the element of loss, because speaking out for what you believe sometimes leaves little choice but to separate yourself from the offender.  I believe that words have power and that how we speak to each other determines the quality of our society. I am not without a stain in my interaction with the person who used such hateful language. In a moment of shock, I told him that he should be ashamed of himself. There was undoubtedly a better way that I could have handled it, and for that I am sorry. When I look back, however, I wonder if any word choice would have caused him to pause, or if he would have doubled down anyway.

When did we become so inept at general kindness? When did we become so harsh in our rhetoric? Are “please” and “thank you” really dead? Do we waste our time and our breath in calling out vitriolic, hateful speech or should we simply be living by example? When are our silences about such things a wise choice and when are they complicit? And most of all, how do we nurture the collective heart of human kindness so that we stop talking like school yard bullies and start talking as if life and love mattered?

Posted in Thoughts on Writing

The Writing Pep-Talk Rant -a-Rama!

This is a pep-talk sort of rant that is as much for me as it is for anyone. Be forewarned: I speak of some unsavory aspects of writing that most of us dare not consider out loud!

Recently a very sweet friend of mine started a group on Facebook for writers. It was filled with support and goodwill, certainly a well-intended endeavor. She is a positive person who is always looking for ways to help others.

Sometimes I think it would be lovely to be that kind of person, but I’m not. When someone first told that I have an edge, I took it as a compliment. But I digress. . . after being in the group for a couple of weeks, I realized that writing memes and caffeine posters will never nurture my writing life, and I left the group. I didn’t want to share my word count or my struggle with scene structure. Why? It was such a supportive, loving environment . . .

The simple answer is, I prefer to be alone with my writing, and groups can (not always) become an excuse for not getting your yaya into the chair and writing. It’s so much easier to talk about the problems of writing in a group than it is to be alone with the problems of writing inside of yourself. But being alone with your writing problems and working through them can push that growing edge that allows you to improve. I believe that serious writers should always be improving.

I Am a Selfish Writer: My writing time is sacred. I hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door because I really don’t want to talk to you — even if you’re my husband. Even if you’re my dog. I don’t want to be a selfish person, but I do want to be a selfish writer.

Routine and Ritual: I’m a ritualistic creature. I do things out of habit and a need for order. Each morning the ritual is the same: Put water on for tea. Feed the dog. Drink the tea . . . And here’s where it can get tricky: I can either get online and visit Facebook, the news or my email, or I can open my laptop and write. If I go for the first plan, I never really recover. I can never re-capture that moment of raw, morning creativity again. It’s gone until the next day, lost to the news and the Internet. I must stay true to the ritual in order to create.

A Writing Prayer: Start here. Here is a little meditation that I found (author unknown). I edited and changed it slightly to make it my own. I recite it before I write. It calms me. It makes me feel good about myself. It’s easier to write for few hours if you feel good about yourself. It’s harder to write if you are thinking, “What the eff do I have to say, anyway? What makes me think I can write?” The second scenario is my default setting, so I have to deliberately do something that soothes the beast of self-doubt before I begin.

May I welcome my creativity with the curiosity of a child.

May I own my voice and trust my experiences.

May I practice mercy in the gap between what I want to create and what comes out.

May I remember nothing can eat me.

May I live with a creative heart.

May I appreciate the gift.

Do The Work: My favorite Robert McKee quote is this: “Do the work. Tell the truth. The results will follow.” Do the work seems to be the hardest part. It’s easy to set intentions. It’s easy to talk about ideas. It’s easy to write a first chapter. What’s hard is a hundred pages into a novel. What’s hard is sitting down and creating a scene and living with the uncertainty of whether or not it’s any good. When I get too hung up on wondering whether or not what I’ve written is good, it’s paralyzing. Do the work. Eventually your work becomes better, but only if you sit down and do it. That’s the other part of the meditation.

Everything Changes: I write articles for one of the local newspapers. I write guest post for two fairly well-known blogs, StoryFix and Sixty and Me. Sometimes I hit it just right and the articles or posts are wonderful and other times they are so-so. But I turn in my work no matter what. And I write novels. My first novel didn’t sell. Now I’m writing a second novel and I am afraid of giving it to my agent for fear that I will have the same experience of rejection. But I get up and write every day anyway. Here’s a truth: Everything changes. Your work today may be brilliant, and tomorrow not so hot. Your failure today may be just the stepping-stone you need for your success tomorrow. Life is not static. Writing is not static. Everything changes.

For the Love of the Life: What remains the constant grace in all of this mess is that I love the writing life. I may be a success one day and I may not. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about the outcome of my efforts. Hey, we’d all like to succeed. On the other hand, if I fail, I will fail spectacularly and no one will ever fault me for a lack of commitment or effort. Those qualities are part of striving for personal excellence. And that, in some sort of weird and wonderful writing way, is what I love the most. That and all those blogs, articles and guest posts that break up the slog of writing in long-form.

And that’s the rant-a-rama for today.  What are you working on?  Please share with me in the comment section.

 

 

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Morning From A Child’s Page

It is 1957. My grandmother, Julia, sits at the kitchen table. She has filled the pot-belly with a bucket of coal and let me make a “house” on a quilt and pillows that I’ve set up in front of the stove, pulling the warmth into myself. I don’t know if today is the day that my mother will come back from wherever it is she goes. She always tells me that it’s work. I don’t believe her, and I still miss her in the aching place that owns my heart.

The morning is black and the days are slow to gather light. Winter hovers over us with piercing silence and the language of snow. A chipped ceramic statue of Mary lives on the dining room table and watches me play. I pray to her, asking her to bring my mother back.

The sound of a chair scrapping against the worn linoleum, and the creak of the floor against Julia’s shoes break the spell. I can smell biscuits and coffee and I get up from my warm place by the stove and sit down at the table, where I’m given a biscuit that steams when it is pulled apart. Julia’s shaking hands adds butter to the smooth open surface, along with a tablespoon of preserves made from summer berries. She pours me a cup of coffee, half of it milk. For a moment, I don’t think about being dropped off here again, content with the tastes of her winter kitchen.

Years later, when I remember her, her love still speaks to me in the small gestures of melting butter and coffee that is half milk, and in fires that are kept going so we won’t be cold. She was never someone who cuddled me or talked to me, but she smiled when she carefully stepped over the house I’d made in front of the pot-bellied stove and softly said “yes, yes, yes,” as if I’d somehow delighted her.

I dig and rut through these memory places sometimes, embracing the sorrow and its meaning; savoring the sweetness of love in her yes’s and my grief. I used to fear these recollections, but now I count them as blessings. All that changed was an understanding of what it took for cold hands to roll out dough on a floured sink board in the early, dark of day. Life has always been this good.

The shadow that invited me back here loosens its grip on the ghost of confusing emotions:  a small child left in farmhouse that sits in the vastness of prairie and sky. I taste again the feeling tone of the time, so grateful to have remembered. Rip it right from the heart of the matter, and keep it close by. This, I tell myself, is the light and darkness, which define you.

When the plates and cups sat empty upon her table, I saw through the window, light creeping into the day. Snow fell gently on fence posts and dried grasses and I jumped when I heard the sound of a car crunching gravel under its tires as it slowly made its way up to the farmhouse.

Posted in A Day In the Life, Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Year of Convictions

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I like the “new” in front of New Year. Other than that, there’s not really anything that I celebrate. New Year’s eve is my least favorite night of the year to be out and about. People are drinking and they are driving. Restaurants over charge for big meals and staying up until midnight to yell “Happy New Year,” holds absolutely no appeal. So, like most New Year’s, I was in bed and asleep by ten.

There are no New Year resolutions for me, because every time I make a resolution, I break it. Gym memberships and diets are the worst kinds of resolutions, followed by eschewing all negative thoughts and not cursing. I exercise enough. I eat well enough and I keep my curse words close at hand and don’t judge myself for it.

But this year, I want stuff. I want certain things to happen and I know that the old phrase: become the change you wish to see, applies. If I have made one resolution, it is this: to stand in the light of my truth.

I stand in the light of my truth. I am not afraid to identify bad behavior and rhetoric when I see it. If it looks like racism, misogyny and bigotry, then I will call it what it is. I will not support any leader or any human being that defiles another with slurs and policy. I advocate for a world of inclusiveness and civility. I hold these things as personal values and I intend to nurture my character by practicing them.

I stand in the light of my truth. I will not accept the white washing of divisive language by dressing it up and calling it “strong” language, locker room talk, or bar talk. As a writer, I know that words matter and they have power.

I stand in the light of my truth. I fully reject anyone who participates in racist, bigoted behavior or anyone who bears witness to racist, bigoted behavior by stating that they “do not recall.” Experience and age have taught me that we all know when we or someone else is behaving badly, and we do recall.

I stand in the light of my truth. You who bear witness and do nothing; you who participate in the slander of groups based on skin color, religion or sexual orientation; you who try to lie to yourself and to me by telling me that these things don’t matter, but making America great again does matter. I will not be swayed by your weak argument and I will let myself feel disgust and heartbreak so that I fight against you with my vote and my advocacy.

I stand in the light of my truth. I won’t be cowed. I will not waiver. I am not interested in supporting dysfunctional politics. I am interested in doing what I know in my heart is right. And I know the disparagement of targeted groups for the reasons I have stated is wrong. I am going to fight for what is right.

2018 – look out! This is the action that I take: I will not stick my head in the sand and ignore what is going on. And I am not alone. There are many of us. And we stand in the light of our truth, and the power of our convictions.

Happy New Year.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Joy To The Choir

This is an older post, but one that I had a lot of fun remembering and writing.  I’m sharing it here again in the spirit of the season.  Happy Holidays, friends. Thanks for being a part of my world. All good wishes and good will for the new year!

It wasn’t fair! For two years in a row, Cheryl McAdams got to be Mary and wear the blue veil and hold the baby Jesus doll in the Christmas Pageant. Cheryl McAdams stepped on my feet whenever she could, leaving black marks on my white socks and scuffs on my Mary Janes. When we were lined up, waiting to go into assembly, she would turn around stomp on my one of my feet, laugh, and then turn to the front of the line again like she hadn’t done anything. No way she should have been Mary two years in a row!

I sang in the choir, directed by Mrs. Luella Pearson. Mrs. Pearson had bluish grey hair that she sprayed into a helmet on her head. Her face was heavily powdered. “Like a porcelain doll” my mother said, but I thought she looked more like a powdered donut.

Each year our school, which was a private school, a fact that my mother liked to share with relatives in a way that didn’t make it private at all, put on a Christmas Pageant. The local television station invited the school to the studio and filmed the entire thing. It was the big event leading up to our winter break.

In parkas and scarves, boots and mittens we marched off of the school bus by grade, so bundled against the snow and cold that we looked like a little troop of Michelin men. Volunteer parents and teachers took us to dressing rooms where we were greeted by rows of freshly pressed, neatly hung choir robes. Sizes were found, parkas and boots were stashed and soon each kid had on a black robe with a white collar and a big red bow that tied under the collar.

Mrs. Pearson inspected us, standing in lines just that way that we would when we sang. She walked up and down, heels clicking on the concrete floor and gave us instruction.

“Be like angels,” she said. “Look directly into the camera and smile your best smiles while you are singing. Remember that smiling helps to raise the note so that you do not sing flat.”

Hearing these instructions, I vowed to hold them dear in the hopes that Mrs. Pearson might notice and cast me as Mary next year.

It cannot be easy for mere mortals to deal with 70 first through sixth graders. Our excitement was ramped up by the robust supply of cookies and candy, supplied by the television station. Like fat little puppies at the trough, we practically licked the floor when the sugary treats were gone.

The thing about so much sugar is that it makes kids think of doing things that they normally wouldn’t do. Leonard, a boy from my class, had already eaten several cookies and quite a bit of candy. He regularly got in trouble at school. Leonard could bring class to a raucous stand still. He liked to put his hand in his armpit and then flap it like a wing in such a way as to make loud farting noises, bringing bouts of laughter. Girls were not supposed to laugh, but secretly I thought Leonard was a very funny kid.

Leonard was running around the television studio with the baby Jesus doll that he’d taken from the manger, and using it as a machine gun.

“Leonard, I told you last week, none of this nonsense! Stop all this fussing now. Do you want to do sit in the dressing room by yourself? Do you,” she repeated, bending down and placing her hands on his shoulders. She straightened the large white collar on his choir robe, and fluffed the big red bow.

I was standing right next to them, so I saw all of it happen. Leonard listened to Mrs. Pearson with an intense look on his face and then a little smile. Mrs. Pearson straightened up and smiled back just as Leonard let rip a real fart. Loud, rolling and fragrant. Leonard started to laugh. All of the kids around him started to laugh. Mrs. Pearson turned whiter than the powder on her face and grabbed a handful of her helmet hair so hard that you could hear it crunch in her grip. For the rest of the day she had a dent on one side of her head.

Now Mrs. Pearson had to avoid Leonard because whenever he saw her, he started to laugh uncontrollably which brought on more laughter from other kids, except from the group of girls that included Cheryl McAdams, in her stupid looking blue Mary veil. They stood in their little pod and glared at Leonard.

“He is so rude,” I heard one of them say.

“My mother would never let me play with him,” said another

“Why would you want to?” chimed in Cheryl McAdams.

Finally it was time for the choir to line up and sing. The adults herded us to our places and we stood in two neat rows, kids in the back on risers so that everyone could be seen. Excitement bubbled over as bright lights shined down and a big camera focused on us. Mrs. Pearson stood behind the camera and raised her arms to direct our singing. I remembered what she had said about looking right into the camera and singing with a smile on your face.

We sang the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the Hallelujah Chorus first. Then we sang Away in a Manger. Each time the camera went by I looked right into the lens, and without really meaning to, leaned slightly forward, as I smiled my best smile. What I didn’t know at the time is that none of the other kids followed Mrs. Pearson’s instructions, so they didn’t look right into the camera. They didn’t smile and none of them leaned forward as the camera went by.

As we came to the end of Silent Night, Holy Night, I leaned forward a little too far and fell onto my face taking three other kids out with me. It is to the cameraman’s credit that he did not follow my descent with his lens– and to Mrs. Pearson’s credit that she didn’t put another dent in her helmet hair. As I went down I could hear Leonard laughing uncontrollably.

On Christmas Eve my mother, my aunts, some cousins sat in our living room and watched the Christmas Pageant on television. My aunts were laughing and calling me a little ham. I scowled my best eight-year-old scowl and said, “I did exactly what Mrs. Pearson told us to do and I was the only one.”

“You were definitely the only one sweetheart,” said one of the aunts. With arms folded across my chest I continued to watch as I tumbled over the three kids that became part of the great Silent Night fall. Leonard could be heard laughing in the background.   The screen faded to black and then to our principal, with a sick look on her face wished everyone a “Very Merry Christmas and a Good Night.”

Somewhere in another part of the city, a powdered Luella Pearson, replete with helmet hair was watching the Christmas Pageant too, and she was on her third martini.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Transformative Force of Grief

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Is it uniquely American to pick and choose emotional states, as if from a menu? Be happy. Don’t be angry. Choose joy, not sorrow. Aim for bliss. A positive attitude can be a strength in our lives, but what happens when it’s at the expense of authenticity?

There’s A Time and a Place: Ecclesiastes reminds us that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… So doesn’t that mean that there is a time to celebrate and a time to grieve?

The Lotus Grows From the Mud: Nature is rich with metaphors. The lotus plant roots itself in dark mud. Beauty and compassion are born from grief. Why then do we seem to hold it back, especially when it shows up as the unfinished business of healing?

Permission to Grieve: No one in this world escapes grief. Yes, it’s present in death, but grief is also the little losses that pile up over time. In these instances grief can reveal itself as melancholy, angst, or unexplainable tears. If we run from what is asking to be felt, is it any wonder why we are a nation preoccupied with psych meds? So, is grief a negative emotion? I don’t think so. Mostly, we turn our face from grief, because we are not well versed with being in its presence. It requires us to sit still with suffering and be its witness.

Winter’s Descent: For me, winter is the great descent. I’m prone toward the disconcerting rumble of low-grade depression this time of year. I’m also more likely to be quiet and reflective, figuring out things about my writing, my life, and myself. It’s the Persephone myth, playing itself out, and each year since I realized that, I weather the assault of the dark a little bit more easily. I’ve come to respect the place where emotions are just under the surface of my skin bringing me closer to the vocabulary of my heart.

Everyone Keeps Secrets: You don’t need a Ph.D. to see that the personas we craft for social media are all rainbows and unicorns. It’s as though the struggles of our lives are shameful and must be kept secret. We need places (probably not social media) to give air to what it means to be human. Too much energy convincing everyone of how positive you are while holding sorrow in abeyance, can turn a person numb.

No Apologies for Grief: The deep psychic dive into what hurts is liberating. We should all take a little more time to cry and wail, allowing tears to baptize us into fresh starts and new beginnings. No apologies for doing your personal work in the dark. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your door and know that nurturing a deeper understanding of grief grows us into better, more compassionate human beings.

Advocate for the Authentic: I am more interested in keeping it real than I am in any preconceived notion of what it means to be positive. In fact, I’d like to kick the whole “positive only” movement in its little ass, and shout to the world, that we are connected by our shared experiences of sorrow and longing.

Human beings tend to most deeply bond over shared stories of broken hearts and retrieved pieces. Each time that I sit with my grief, it teaches me something. And that is the transformative force that pushes this messy, awkward, wonderful life toward greater love and fullness.

Posted in A Day In the Life

November Means Thanksgiving

Prayer is gratitude and gratitude is prayer. It’s not in the asking that the heart is filled, it’s in the recognition of God in all of life that soothes our inevitable suffering.

The thing that I love most about Thanksgiving cannot be found in family gatherings or over-indulgent meals. Instead, Thanksgiving has become a day of grateful reflection. It took years of reflection for me to admit to myself that “honestly, I don’t really like roasted turkey.” So Thanksgiving dinner is either turkey vegetable soup or a stuffed acorn squash. And I always make something with pumpkin. I’m grateful I finally gave into simplicity.

My husband and I are pretty much orphans. There are no kids or grandkids to light up the day. Our parents have long been star dust somewhere far away. We spend our Thanksgiving walking in the woods, quietly absorbing the beauty of the natural world. Though traditions are the rich markers of time passing; the touchstones of living that cause us to reflect upon the past and aspire toward the future, it’s easy to be seduced by the Norman Rockwell / Hallmark version of the holiday. I fear that it sometimes stresses us out. I mean, who can really do dinner like Martha Stewart, except for Martha Stewart?

Each of us in our own way needs to find the traditions and ceremonies that hold the most value and meaning for us. For Dean and I, there are no longer large turkeys, or big gatherings. We have sifted through all of those things over the years and found our own path. It’s made up of slow simmering soup, a pumpkin dessert and most especially a long walk on a crisp and cool day that will fill our senses with the delights of the Oregon woods.

The things that I am grateful for could fill volumes, but here are a few: I am grateful for good health and the ability to walk for miles. I am grateful that my husband Dean is by my side in life and on the trail. I’m grateful for our faithful friend and four-legged companion, Jeter.

I am grateful that I have such a cozy office that welcomes me each morning when I come upstairs to write. I’m grateful for words and books and other writers and all of the literary things that I love.

I am grateful for small and tender things — the blue jay that sits on the railing of the deck and cocks his head at me; the last of summer’s blooming geraniums; movie night with a husband who always wants to hold my hand; mornings of sweet, hot tea; a stack of greeting cards sent by a fellow writer, now tied with string, and featured prominently on my desk.

Life is good. Life is God. Prayer is gratitude and gratitude is prayer. May your heart know joy. May you be blessed with gratitude, purpose and contentment in your life. May your life seem good.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I am grateful for you.

Posted in Thoughts on Technology

My Love/Hate Relationship With the Digital Life

iStock_000020654306_SmallSometimes the digital world just doesn’t work for me. The damn remote with its sleek face has created nostalgia for a past that was full of easy to manipulate buttons and knobs. A knob is a deliberate turn. Click. It’s either on or off. A touch screen is fraught with the danger of accidently brushing over something that you don’t want to happen. “No, wait, I didn’t want the DVD player. No, not that, I just wanted cable news. How did I get into Netflix?” All punctuated by a deep exasperated groan.

 Addiction Weary: I’m an addict. I am addicted to 24/7 digital accessibility. In the good old days, the first thing that I used to do in the morning was to read the newspaper and have a cup of tea. The last thing I did before bed was to read a few chapters in a book. Now I am addicted to checking email, texts, Instagram and the dreaded energy suck, Facebook. Even when I don’t post on social media, I feel like a troll, looking into so many lives– a voyeuristic view of other humans–the new millennium version of a nosy neighbor looking out the kitchen window in case the Smiths start fighting again.

The Longing for Human Touch: I liked the days when I called family on the phone, or they called me. I loved when my great niece Nancy Ann would visit from college because there was no Facebook yet, because we didn’t have Internet/email. We met. And I cherish the memories of those visits when we sat face to face on the couch, our shoes off and our feet tucked under us, sharing the dreams and the plans for our lives. Now I have to be content with a “like” or a comment on Facebook which will never be as satisfying as being able to look into her eyes.

Technology Is Eating My Soul: Even with the best of intentions, I can’t seem to ignore my devices for terribly long. I never go anywhere without a phone and a couple of days ago, I was in the middle of the woods when my phone chimed, as sweet little Zen like chime, and I actually pulled it out of my pocket to see who was texting me. Whether I answered the text in that moment or two hours later was not going to impact my life in any way. Note to self: if your going to bring your phone on your hikes (good idea if you’re hiking alone) then turn the ringer off!

 What I Can Live Without: I can live without social media for stretches of time. I am hard pressed to believe that anyone really cares about what I ate for dinner last night. And while photos, replete with captions about hubby, dog and self make me feel like I have a zillion friends, all thrilled with the fact that I just climbed to the top of Mt. Ashland; I notice that articles and blogs over which I have labored get little attention. It takes too much time to read, and isn’t that a sad commentary on the state of things?

Someone reading what I’ve written is a thousand times more important to me than someone glancing at my picture and “liking” it. It’s just that one gets you validated and one gets you ignored. I feel like we all go on autopilot when we’re on social media. We become zombies, seduced by cute, light and irrelevant — the kind of emotionalism that makes advertisers lick their lips and come in for the kill.

I Am So Over Marketing Gurus: Do I really need to promote my self as much as the marketing gurus say, or do I just have to keep writing and keep working at getting better? Will 3,000 “likes” make me a better writer? Probably not. And yet the push for “create content” is the mantra of so many like myself. I don’t just want to create content, I want to write about stuff I actually care about. And with that comes some thoughtfulness, which takes time.

Bah, Humbug?: There are times when I enjoy social media, but I know that it’s not a substitute for the face-to-face connection that I long for in my relationships. There are times, when I appreciate the convenience of having a phone I can carry around with me. Still, constant access to a phone often pulls me away from interactions with live human beings, because I tend to feel important, or maybe I get some kind of chemical surge when I check my phone to see who is trying to reach me.

But I Love My Computer: Every day, I get up and write, so everyday I’m grateful to have a laptop that allows me to type faster, spell check, cut and paste, save drafts and send pages electronically. I’ve never felt a longing for the loud, enormous Correcting Selectric IBM that was once the tool of my craft.

It’s a love/ hate relationship that I have with technology and I don’t think I am alone in this. If you know me and are reading this, in spite of being connected digitally, if you live in my town, just come on by and let’s hang out like we used to before we relied so much on technology to do for us, that which is innate in our own hearts — connect.

What is your relationship to technology? Love it? Hate it? Please share with me in the comments section.

 

 

Posted in Storytelling

The Story Gatherer and the Fairy Chairs

For a few weeks now I’ve been grappling with recent rejections. One day I’m strong and tough skinned and two days later, the disappointment at not having sold my novel creeps in and wraps its greasy little paws around my neck.

This morning as I sat in bed with my tea, I asked myself if I was depressed. No, not depressed. I didn’t want to hurt myself or anyone else. I wasn’t planning on staying in bed all day. Joy of life? Well, it was a little compromised, a “down, but not out” sort of thing.

I talk out loud to myself sometimes, a habit that amuses my husband but helps to bring me clarity.

Me: What do you want to do?

Me: Go into town and look for stories. I want to be a story gatherer today.

Me: Okay, take your camera.

So I did. I drove into Lithia Park and began to wander the artisan stands at the edge of the creek. I talked to a photographer who told me about his printing technique. His beautiful pictures were too perfect for my taste, but I appreciated that he’d captured the essence of the trees that shade this area like giant sentries.

I talked to a woman who makes brightly colored pillows and potholders. She told me about how her crafts are only part time and the rest of the time she works for her ex-husband in his construction business. She spoke in glowing terms of how they had found peace with each other.

People’s polite narratives are not that interesting. I long to see the heart of the matter, the source of meaning, fueled by angst and distress. It wasn’t until I got to the third booth, and met the woman who made fairy chairs, that I was ignited by a story.

I snapped a picture of the chairs.”

She pointed at my camera. “You should ask first,” she said with a thin edge of razor like sharpness.

“Sorry. Do you mind if I take a picture?”

She nodded.

“When did you start making fairy chairs?” I asked her.

“I had a life altering experience,” she said. “Something that changed me irrevocably.”

Story. There it is, asking to be felt, asking to connect.

“What happened?”

“Nine years ago,” she began, “my house burned down. I lost everything. I needed to do art so I could heal. I needed to make something from the ashes inside of myself.”

I was enthralled. The violation of expectation had turned this woman’s life on its head. Her heart and soul and been consumed by the flame of that fire. And she’d found her way back, down a path of mourning to the place where fairies dance. Suddenly I knew that I had to have a chair for my writing muse.

Carefully, while believing in magic, I chose the one made of abalone shell. I would put it on my desk, and now my writing muse would have a place to sit. I took a few more photographs and we said our goodbyes.

The essence of the story is this:  the fairy chair lady took brutal loss and morphed it into art, sharing the energy of healing with others. She understood the place of all consuming flame and the ashes left in the wake. Everyone has times when they must pick themselves up and keep moving forward, dust themselves off and find beauty in grief. We are never alone as much as we think we are.

And that, my friends, is the story I gathered in the morning light of a Saturday morning in Lithia Park.

Is there a story that is touching your own heart?  Please share.

2017-02-19 11.31.02

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

8 Steps to Dynamic Living After 60 (Or Really Anytime)

iStock_000015408259XSmallOur culture spends a lot of time and money on motivational books, inspirational blogs and personal growth seminars. Why is this?

Is it the need to heal some childhood wound of wanting to get it right? Or is there a deeper reason, like wanting to get the most from life? On some level, no matter how successful you are, or how right you get it, we all know the truth, that life is only temporary. And that’s what makes me want to live as fully as I can.

Satisfaction and Success: Satisfaction is sustainable, and success sometimes unattainable. Success is results oriented, often associated with fame and prosperity. Satisfaction is process oriented. While the self-help industry offers some good advice on creating success, the wise elder will do well to redefine the word success, becoming familiar with the nuance of making the world a better place; and become intimate with the satisfaction — doing for the sake of doing.

The Creative Force: The most alive, vibrant people at any age are those for whom creativity plays a daily role. In her 80’s my mother had a small hand-loom, upon which she made wool hats, dozens and dozens of hats. Every so often she would box up the hats and ship them to organizations that would distribute them to children who were in need of winter clothing. It’s the ‘making,’ that keeps the heart and mind engaged. Creativity is the life affirming power that lends itself to purpose.

Fitness of the Mind: My husband plays his bass every evening after dinner. He sometimes takes classes at the university in music theory. It stretches his brain, challenges him to think and process in ways that keep his mind fit. Whether it’s playing music or working crossword puzzles, a mind that is engaged in learning is more flexible. We’ve all heard the story about someone being “set in their ways.” The concretization of who we think we are creates a brittle mind-set, prone to disappointment. Whereas a curious mind-set continues to expand, adapt and evolve.

Fitness of the Body: Keep moving. That is the motto of anyone who has ever had a fitness regime. You know that when you stop, it’s harder to get it back. While pushing weights around a gym may not be the most ideal for older connective tissue, there are a lot of activities that you can do including but not limited to walking, swimming, biking, pilates and yoga. Fitness lessens pain and contributes to positivity and energy.

Fitness of the Spirit: Never grow tired of watching the sunrise or walking in the woods in the early autumn. There are places that evoke in us a reverence, a sense of oneness with all life. I seek out those experiences in nature. Some will find the same in religious text or mindfulness practice. The source of your wonder and awe does not matter as much as your ability to surrender to the sustenance of the wonder. In our later years as things change and end, accessing that place gives us a way to cope with inevitable loss.

Use Your Voice: Some people my age complain that they feel invisible after a certain age. The fact that some people still need to be educated in ageism should not be an excuse to slink away. Use your voice in activism and advocacy. Share your hard won wisdom with those you meet along the way. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Keep Your Dreams Close By: I dream of having three books published before I turn 70, and I am not opposed to sneaking that number up to 75 if necessary, or even 80. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from daily writing, whether it’s my blogs or a new manuscript. I’m good at what I do and I have courage. What I don’t have is a guarantee of anything, but no one does. So, dare to keep dreaming.

Go To Sleep At Night With a Prayer of Thanks on Your Lips: This was the best spiritual advice that I ever received. Say thank you at the ending of each day. Say thank you at the beginning. Life is a gift to be lived to the fullest and there are delights to be had in the successes and failures, the love and the loss, the wonders and the shock. Our best response to living well always be, in my estimation, thank you. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this life.

What’s the one thing that you believe contributes the most to your dynamic life? Please share with me in the comments section.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Happy Independence. Gratitude.

Patriotic Puppy Dog Sign
A is for attitude. Get a good one going on if you want your life to be dynamic and purpose filled. We cannot control the events that happen to us, but we can control our attitude about those events. Money, relationships, status and stuff are not what make us happy. What creates happiness is the attitude with which we walk through life.

I have yet to find any better attitude than gratitude. There’s a scene from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning that will always be with me. It’s this: a group of prisoners are being moved from one concentration camp to another. They are crammed into the boxcar of a train, like cattle. It’s daybreak, and the train is going by a mountain range. Frankl and his fellow travelers clamor to the side of the boxcar to watch the sunrise through the wooden slats. How beautiful. How amazing, they remark. Each time I think of that scene, I think of this horribly battered human being who still found beauty and awe in a sunrise. If he could do it, than it should be easy for me.

Some days a good attitude can feel far away. Politics and the perversions of poverty seem unstoppable and defeating. The way in which we treat each other shocks the senses. But just like Frankl on that train, I am reminded that beauty and ugliness do exist side by side and it is up to us to choose what we nurture. I choose to nurture beauty through advocacy and activism. I take part in my community to do the things that I can. While I cannot do it all, I can make a difference in my own small way and then sit back and appreciate that I’ve been given the opportunity.

Today is July 4th and our county celebrates its independence as a free and sovereign nation. I celebrate my independence and the freeing attitude of gratitude that does not exist in a bubble of isolation, but rather in reaching out to the world. We are only blessed in order to give blessings.

Happy Independence Day. Gratitude!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Insecurity, Not Good Enough and Other Sucky Things Writers Do to Themselves

Opened notebook, pen, books and glassesIf you are a writer, you’ve probably asked yourself why. Writing is serious business. It’s solitary. It’s demanding. And no matter how much you study and how much you practice, it is a craft that you never master.

On the one hand, you have to be a little bit crazy to want to lock yourself into a room several hours each day to create worlds with the written word. On the other hand, story telling is sacred art. Stories can teach us, provoke us and make us feel and think in ways that we might not have otherwise. And the writer is always looking for this–what is it that I am writing which touches a universal place in the human condition?

Even with a lofty vision of what writing is to you, it will always be an unforgiving taskmaster.  I write and perfect to the best of my ability only to discover the one flaw in the work that will unravel it all, baring my insecurities. I laugh at the rookies who when confronted with cutting 6,000 words thinks that they will be able to use it somewhere else, as through you can just cut and paste one world into another. But I digress. . . In spite of a daily discipline, in spite of focus and unending practice, I have moments where I wonder if I am good enough? Can what I’ve written cut muster? Why do I do this?

That answer ebbs and flows, and it sucks to wrestle with the demons of insecurity and not good enough. So why then, put myself through it? Why does anyone, in any craft where excellence is held in high regard, put themselves through it? It would be so much easier to be a lady who lunches.

I don’t know about other writer’s reasons for creating in this way. For me, I think it comes down to how it informs my unsettledness and gnawing discontent. It feeds something in me that wants to look down from on high and move the pieces around the board to make it mean something. Writing is born of a dark, chaotic place in my psyche that is engaged in the perpetual activity of examining the what if’s in life. The meat of grief, falling from grace, love, betrayal, revenge and how those things can push us toward transformation is my grist. It makes me lick my lips.

Still on a day like today, when I am filled with doubt and I sit down to write anyway, I feel as though I am doing the right thing. And I suppose that counts for something, that and a fervent prayer that I will get to the “good enough.”

Most people who read my blog are writers too. So the question of the day is: why do you write?

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

My Summer To-Do List

iStock_000010690028XSmallWhile it’s true, that I am no saint, ahem. . . . I am someone who tries to be a better person. Seems like there is always room for improvement. What I want is to keep my gratitude close by and grow my compassion. That’s a tall order for anyone, but all we can do is try, right?

This morning I made myself a to-do list, a reminder list of the simple things that make me a kinder, happier person. I hope that you find some value in it too and that maybe you’ll make your own  list. Here’s mine:

Strive to be authentic and honest with yourself and those you meet along the way.

Admit your faults.

Say “I’m sorry.”

No matter how healthy you get, eat bacon once a month.

Say “thank you.”

Spend a lot of time in the garden and in the woods and always take your dog.

Let your dog (or cat) make you laugh (it’s their job).

Be as kind as you can be to your partner–they put up with you.

Keep your sense of humor with you at all times.

Appreciate your friends and be generous with your love, affections and support.

Wear black lacy underwear no matter how old you get. (TMI?)

For every dollar you make in the world, give some of it away.

Let gratitude be the way you pray.

Don’t judge anyone by their religion, the color of their skin,their sexual orientation, or their ability.

Dance to rock n’ roll music, and dance often.

Sing when you clean up the kitchen or drive in the car.

Always wave hello to your neighbors.

Stay current on current events.

Be an advocate and an activist for those things that are important to you.

Dream big and be patient–it’s coming.

Now while I go tape this list to my bathroom mirror, why don’t you share some of the things you’d put on your list? Hit me up in the comment section.