Stephanie’s Blog

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.

Sunrise Ceremony

White mug on wood table with sunlight over mountainSitting on the deck, I watch the sun crack through the morning clouds in streaks of pink and orange. The air is cool and inviting. Wrapping my hands around a cup of tea, I breathe in the essence of a day coming alive. This is a simple pleasure that fills me with immense joy. I am thankful. It is the first day of the year that I am able to do this. Until now, it’s been too cold or wet. But this morning, the long grey winter and the unrelenting drizzle of spring have given way to warmer temperatures and sunshine. This is a day that deserves to be noted. This ritual of tea and appreciation marks the beginning. There will be days ahead where I will welcome the sunrise in this way. Fortified by a caffeinated brew and the hum of the world around me,  isn’t life is good? Celebrate.

What marks the beginning of the spring and summer months for you? Please share with me in the comments.

A Life In Letters

Wax seal and old lettersWith the advancement of new technology, there is also loss. Today I mourn the demise of the letter. Yes, I know that email is faster and more efficient. I also know that you can get easily addicted to checking your phone every 10 minutes to see if someone has contacted you. Facebook has replaced the intimate chat once provided by letters with a very public façade of the personal life. Facebook and other social media have become the mask of happiness and rainbows that we wear for the world.

A few days ago an old friend, Kitty, emailed me that she was cleaning out a file cabinet and had found several of my letters. She scanned and attached two of them. And when I read them, I cried. It was a glimpse into the anticipation we held in our younger selves, and of course now, I knew how all of it had turned out.

I was punched in the emotional gut by those letters written in 1989. I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. I was the in my thirties and in the midst of two enormous life-changing events. I’d become a college student, finishing up what I’d left behind. It was making me into a different person. AND I was falling in love with the man who would become my husband. Simultaneously my best friend, Kitty had recently given birth to a son. Her life was in a great state of change too.

The record and account of all this was documented in a series of long-distance letters in which Kitty expressed to me the fears and joys of being a first-time parent, the angst of wanting to do it right and how the ups and downs of all of that was affecting her.

I wrote about how getting a college education in my mid-thirties was giving me a sense of confidence, a sense of pride for going back and turning around something that for the longest time I didn’t believe I could fix. And then there was the tenuous narrative of my love life, words revealing the most cautious of hopes. I was in a relationship that I desperately wanted to work and feared might not, so I tiptoed around how I wrote about it. Of course looking back, I can see how much was said in what I chose not to write down.

Checking the mailbox to find a letter from Kitty brought me a rush of excitement. Her musings were a thoughtful deliberation on life, often accented by newspaper clippings and photographs from days when we were much more cavalier. I sent her short stories I’d written in school and a running commentary on my adjustment to Colorado. The letters reveal the depths of a friendship between two young women growing into their potential and purpose.

I appreciate that I can email a friend across the country and get a response in the same day, but emails are never as thoughtful as my letters once were. The anticipation of an email is more habitual than the delight of the ongoing dialogue contained in letters which were more emotionally honest. I miss that.

I am fortunate to have received many letters in my lifetime. I believe that their legacy can be found in my heart-felt love for stories. As a child traveling between divorced parents, my affection for the one I wasn’t with found expression in letters. And the connection I had from the absent parent was made up by hand printed reassurances. In my jewelry drawer, I still keep a letter from my husband, written to me one anniversary. It is a meaningful conveyance of his love and unwavering devotion to me. That he took the time to commit it to paper makes it a treasure.

When did Kitty and I stop writing letters to each other? It wasn’t a decision. It just unfolded that way. We are still in touch all of the time, but there is a sense of rush and hurry that was never in our letters. Our email sentences are shorter, and there is no longer the salutation of “Dear.” Many of our sign-offs are a promise to talk soon, knowing that the email was squeezed into a too-busy-day and that what needs to be said, what wants to be said does not exist in the paragraph on the screen.

I miss the letter. I fear that it is an art form that has met its death. I can’t imagine a title like Rilke’s Emails To A Young Poet ever gracing my bookshelf.

What about you? Have you kept letters from a friend or family member that you revisit from time to time? Do you still write letters? And like me, do you miss the delight of a letter in your mailbox? I’d like to know. Please share with me in the comment section.

United Airlines and a Nation of Serfs

air hostess rude middle fingerLike millions of Americans, I was deeply disturbed and appalled by the way United Airlines mangled the removal of a passenger from one of their flights in order to make room for a flight crew that needed to get to Louisville. Certainly the horror of the man being physically “re-accommodated” from his seat, his head smashed into an armrest that bloodied his face, was horrifying enough. But what I found equally horrifying was the sickening realization that we are now officially a nation of serfs.

Corporate America is so huge, so vital to our economy that we are secondary citizens. Corporations are the primary citizens, and as such, they can get away with just about anything. We, on the other hand are the masses of over-marketed consumers with no rights and the guarantee of physical violence against us should we displease our corporate masters. Long gone are the days of the customer is always right. Those days only existed when smaller companies truly cared about their patrons. United CHOSE to handle this situation with violent, physical aggression. And then they doubled down and did not offer an apology. How messed up is that?

Look no further than our federal government to find the role models that underscore the state of our country. We have elected a bully whose cabinet is filled with Goldman-Sachs. Wow, an administration that is just like the United Airlines Corporation. Their motto should be, “if you don’t do what we want, if you don’t like what we do, we can hurt you.” And there it is, on the evening news, what can happen to any of us.

The CEO of United was quoted as saying “the man was belligerent when asked to leave the plane,” trying to make an excuse for the airline’s inexcusable behavior. That was a stupid and unfortunate choice of words. Belligerent means hostile, aggressive and war like. The man dragged off the plane was none of those things, as evidenced by the recordings. He was however, indignant. And who wouldn’t be? The idiots at United put everyone on the plane and then started ordering them off. Why wasn’t this handled at the gate instead of employing violence as a viable solution? This incident is the epitome of everything that is wrong with corporate America. But, I digress. As a United Airlines rep pointed out on the morning news, you and I do not have any rights when we fly any airline. Thanks for the clarification.

United Airlines is one more corporate master, not unlike our current government, which is also a corporate master. “Do what we want you to do. And if you protest, we will fuck you up.” Thanks for underscoring the truth that most of us have suspected, United: we have become a nation of serfs.

Inspire or Perspire, Thoughts From An Old Determined Rookie

istock_000017878764xsmallThere were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.

My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.

In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.

It didn’t happen that way.

I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.

I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down. 

And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.

Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?

I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.

What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.

Here’s To 65 Years Of Kick Ass Living

65 isn’t as old as I thought it would be. I guess it’s official old age, I mean I did get a Medicare card. I don’t feel that much older, but I do feel grateful.

I woke up this morning and wished myself a Happy Birthday, then said a little prayer; “thank you for 65 years of living.” I meant it too. For 65 years, I’ve been getting up every single day and experiencing life. Sometimes it has beat me up and sometimes it has given me reason to rejoice, but looking back I’m not sure that I would change any of it–because, well it’s made me who I am.

There have been a lot of dreams and discoveries along the way– first kisses, first marriage, oops, second marriage, jobs that I hated, jobs that I loved, an accidental career, terrible grief, outrageous joy and love of writing, reading and education. I’ve made both terrible mistakes and really good choices.

Someone asked me if I was doing anything special today and I said “no, not really.” But I realize that isn’t true. I am doing something special today. I’m going to walk through life another day and look at, touch, smell, feel and taste it. That’s special.

And while 65 brings me closer to the finish line, I’m not straining to see where that is. Instead I’m going to sit on the couch this morning with my husband, Dean, and talk about our outer world and our inner lives. I’m going to do a little dance in stocking feet and my pajamas to something that moves me like The Pointer Sisters or The Temptations. I’m going to eat a wheat free, chocolate chip cookie and I’m going to climb the hills around my house with hubby and dog, celebrating the sunshine and the flowering trees. “Live it all up and don’t forget to say thank you.” That’s my birthday motto.

Nope, 65 isn’t as old as I thought it would be. I’m grateful to be able to hike, to write, cook, read, and reflect. I’ve been doing those things a long while now and really all that’s changed is that my knees creak and I go to sleep earlier than I used to.

Truth: I love drinking in life. So, Happy Birthday to me. I’m gonna celebrate it by climbing a mountain and dancing with joy.

Why Would You Even Want to Write a Book?

Opened magic book with magic lightsAsk most writers, and they’ll tell you that the traditional publishing industry is fickle if not unkind; and that self-publishing is a tremendous amount of work for what, in most cases, amounts to the sale of 100 to 200 books. In an age of offerings worth binge watching, time for the written word is receding into an antiquity of independent books stores and rotary dial phones. Technology has the influence and the edge.

So why write a book at all? I’ve asked myself this question in the past year as I’ve slogged through the slow revision and polish process of completing a novel.

I fell in love with stories before I was even in grade school. A slightly inebriated mother with a vivid imagination made up bedtime stories for me that delighted and enlivened my imagination. And the slight hint of vodka that hung in the air was my first understanding that life was interesting, messy and rarely as polite as we try to make it out to be.

Although I was a terrible student in school, English class was my great joy and I couldn’t wait to do the writing assignments. By the time that I was a teenager I was typing the poetry of unrequited love on my baby blue Smith-Corona, trying to bend the words to capture the horrible, beautiful, angst that I felt. Emotions that lived in the captivity of my heart and mind needed to be liberated by carefully chosen words.

There has never been a time in my life when I did not write. Eventually I would earn a degree in creative writing and poetics. I would work an internship at a newspaper and write a few magazine articles before life intervened with marriage and a mortgage. Then one day as I approached retirement, I decided that it was my time to write a book.

And wouldn’t you know it, as I got around to writing that book, technology was sucking the life out of the written word. The fast pace of our techno-driven society had replaced the slow, delicious reading of a story with hand-held screens, communicating in abbreviations and initials. OMG! So much for choosing words carefully. Back to the question: why, when knowing all that would I even want to write a book?

I wrote my book, not because I am a writer, but because I am a storyteller. Yes, writers can construct beautiful prose, but it is stories that connect us. They give us clues into who we are and how we need to be. A good story can change the world.  And even when you strip away the focus and deliberation necessary to read, storytelling must endure. Technology cannot replace story, it can only replace its delivery.

It’s difficult to predict what will happen to books. Clearly there are fewer readers for the novel format. New fiction writers come and go each year with few breaking out into careers with any promise of longevity. Writers must now be marketers too, participating in an Internet that is a cacophony of unrelenting promotional noise to sell their wares. And most of all, one-time readers are turning to other media to involve themselves in story. What will be the result? A book engages the imagination, while the flickering light of stories on a screen requires little engagement at all. In fact, it has an addictive quality to it. Does anyone remember the feeling tone, let alone the details of binge watching, or just the feel-good seduction it has provided?

You and I are meaning seeking creatures, and story gives our world meaning. That is why I write. I see storytelling as sacred art that engages and enrages its audience to think, feel, and reflect. Yes, I would love to be widely distributed and have millions of people read my books, but I’m not convinced that books will survive our technological age. In the event that they don’t, I will keep writing stories anyway. It’s the thing that keeps me in awe about what it is to be human, and provides a sense of purpose.

It will be interesting to see what happens next: from gathering around the fire to tell stories that teach us, to reading books that engage us, to new forms of media that will continue to inform us about our miraculous lives. Whatever delivery system our stories take on in this brave new world, storytelling will remain essential.