Stephanie’s Blog

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.