It’s that time of year…

It’s that time of year for…the world according to the advertising folks.

Miracle diets –and– mattress shopping

            So, while I am munching on some of the “top 10 foods to burn fat” that now reside in my purse, I am shopping in a mattress store to find the most comfortable one that will prevent me from getting out of bed to exercise. Side note: it’s ALWAYS the time of year for mattress shopping!

It’s that time of year for…

Saving starving animals –and– protecting endangered species

Watching from my window as one of the many feral cats my neighbor feeds finishes digging in my garden to cover its poop then pounces on a ground-feeding bird to kill it. Feral cats are not hunting to feed themselves, because neighborhoods organize mass feedings! Outdoor cats are an invasive species!

It’s that time of year for…

Spending money you don’t have on presents no one needs –then– fighting crowds the day after Christmas to exchange and return all the presents.

            Meaning well one year, my brother-in-law gave my sister the best vacuum cleaner he could find. Mrs. Glamour Puss almost divorced him, while pulling a four-day sulk that ruined the holiday for everyone. Did I mention she is the queen of sulk?

It’s that time of year for…

Sales people asking “are you ready for [fill in the holiday]?” — and — Shoppers getting in line in the middle of the night, pushing, yelling, running over each other, filling carts to spoil their kids, or mindlessly filling credit cards online.

Reminds me of a pack of coyotes. Ah, ‘tis the season of joy, peace, and goodness!

 It’s that time of year for…

Endless recipes, menus, and party plans to stuff our faces in celebration of something.  –and– just days later, a load of broadcast guilt for having stuffed our faces.

 The irony is stunning! It’s amazing how advertising can numb brains. All the advice about resolutions just adds to the notion that we are our own worst enemy. One morning show commentator tells us to stop using Jan. 1 to start “good behavior.” Instead she suggests starting a month or two earlier. As though sneaking up on THE DAY will make you more resolute?

 Speaking about advertising, have you heard about the online banking app (like I’m going to do that!) that – wow! – gives you your paycheck two days early? Has no one figured out that only happens once? Two days before actual pay day next month you will be just as broke as you were before. Think about that.

It’s that time of year for…

Buying a car. –and– Buying furniture [I guess to go with all the mattresses.]

Frankly, I don’t need a new car, and I’m afraid of things people expect cars to do these days. I fear I’d have to go to school to learn how to use all the digital gadgets that are supposed to make driving safer and more enjoyable. What if I set the stay-in-your-lane thingy to the wrong lane, and I’m suddenly driving on the wrong side of the road? And that stop-the-car-before-impact sensor that only reads things big enough to be another vehicle? Well, I do know someone who might get that readout. What if I figure out how to put on a movie and then fall asleep as I do on my couch?

            The good side is I will no doubt get one big enough to lug my furniture purchases home. Problem is, I’ll never figure out how to make the four rows of seats disappear into the chassis so I can load on the couch!

For me, it’s the time of year to hide in my house, fall asleep to old movies (on my old couch), see only the people I love, and imagine myself thinner (and taller, while I’m at it!), and be happy with myself in general.

I hope you all had the best holidays this year, and find joy and peace in the New Year. And don’t forget to vote. 

HOW WE TELL OUR OWN STORY

All my life I’ve been startled or shocked or violently shaken into realizing I’m not whom I’ve been telling a story about. Starting with the tale itself…

I was born into a happy family in America The Beautiful, loved and nurtured by all around me, bound for my own happy future as a successful complaisant wife and mother. Soon, another child entered the picture and we loved each other. She looked up to me. As I grew I found the need to keep this rosy picture in sight, as pieces of it needed editing along the way.

I noticed my parents react differently to each of us: impatient with my loud expressions of any emotion that dawned on me; more comfortable with the quiet (read obedient) one. “Think before you speak” became a repeated wish from my often embarrassed mother.

As I chose my own path forward I was cautioned by my 1950s parents to stay in the “safe zone” of good manners and conformity. I did understand that these same parents had seen the ravages of both the Great Depression and World War II, who were now middle aged adults living under the threats of the Cold War. So I excused them and kept going.

My story still celebrated my happy place in The Great American Family.

BAM!In a small town where everyone knew everything about everyone, my father left us. The Emperor was losing some of his clothes.

My mother made me proud. She got a job, looked to me like she could survive anything, and kept her head up amidst all the roiling gossip. I thought there was nothing she could not do. My sister withdrew further into a quiet background.

Things settled into a routine as I edited and patched my story.

I succeeded in school. Anything I set my mind to and worked hard for came to pass. Good grades were easy because I loved to learn. Parts in school plays, a place on the cheerleading squad, earning the Honor Society, were all within my grasp because I was determined. I felt some resentment from my sister, but just thought that was natural.

PINCH! Off to college, remembering that my father had questioned my need for it. I don’t know where that came from, but it sure didn’t stop me. At this point, the emperor had moved a different family into the sweet spot anyway.

Got married at 19 and was back in the safe zone. Finished college as a married student, had two adorable children in the very changed world of the 1960s. Began to feel a bit like an orphan. I was definitely outside the Emperor’s realm, and my sister’s little family, still in the same small town I had fled, was now the center of my mother’s world.

Not bereft, I began to feel my strengths. But the story in my head kept writing over any slights, while I still thought all was good.

LITTLE ELECTRIC SHOCKS! When I told each of my parents I was getting divorced, my mother asked me what I had done. My father asked me if I was having an affair! I absorbed the insults and just went on.

NUCLEAR BAM! My first son Jeff drowned on a camping trip at age 20. Surrounded by friends, family, and my destroyed ex-husband, I still went forward. My second son Drew, at 18, was the source of my strength. There were many days when he was the adult in the house. It was because of him, I began to see myself as whole.

Editing my “story,” I redefined myself. Neither of my parents attended Jeff’s funeral, and my sister and her daughters went there and sat by themselves. That strange day did leave a permanent rent in my imagined family fabric. Still, I excused them all.

In the subsequent 30 years I’ve had a mostly successful career in university public relations in three different states, owned and run a bed and breakfast, written a novel, and have a cottage baking business at farmers markets. I have friends still in each place I’ve lived; Drew lives and thrives with his own business an hour away from me. We are truly good friends.

During that time, I recaptured a wonderful relationship with my father and gave him some of his clothes back. That appears to have damaged my relationship with my mother. Unknowingly, I was also cementing a black spot reserved for me in my sister’s heart.

CONFIRMING BLAST! The morning after our father died, my sister exploded. Standing together in his house, she screamed every lifelong real or imagined slight back at me. I had no defense because, even with more and more evidence that I had no part messing in her life, I had continued to hope we could be OK. This would take more than editing, I realized.

That was the last time I saw her. Evidence of her manipulations behind the scenes with my father still didn’t prepare me for what came a couple of years later. My mother was dying. I was forbidden hospital information. My niece hung up on me beside the hospital bed; I had been written out of my mother’s will; and every penny and piece of property was scooped away thanks to misused legalities she had learned when taking care of my father.

QUIET REALIZATION. I am happier than I’ve ever been, sure now that I really know myself. I am thankful every day for the pleasures I find just looking out my window. I am satisfied just standing amidst trees at a river’s edge. I ignore naked emperors completely and listen to birds. I’ve learned to concentrate on the very simplest pleasures like baking breads and things that make people happy and comfortable.

NO MORE EDITING! I no longer reach back to rewrite myself and I regret nothing. I have only today and the maybe-perhaps tomorrows, so I refuse to waste any more time in the past. Story exposed as unreliable fiction, interesting but irrelevant.

TO BE HAPPILY CONTINUED!

————————————

I wrote this first in mid-November, but decided to tuck it away because it was too personal. Reading it again today, I realize the important lesson it tells deserves some light. Facing whatever comes leads to really knowing ourselves and our strengths. In re-reading this, I noticed that I have only used two names. My sons, Jeff and Drew, are what make me thankful to be on this earth. Everyone else in this essay is on the sidelines, wishing they could be me.

Really Being There

Dedicated to all the children who have made me notice how everything they see is a discovery to be wondered at.

Think about the word “still.” One can be still as in making as little noise as possible. Similarly, one can sit still as in not fidgeting. But still is also related to continuity and permanence, as in the old post office building is still standing after the earthquake. Or he has managed to still believe in himself despite all the doubters around him.

In all its applications, still carries a kind of strength, whether asking you to tamp down behaviors or to recognize how something manages to continue even following negative happenings.

This small word also carries a heap of nonchalance and the innocence of a toddler. As adults, we almost have to sneak up on stillness. However, unless they are hurt or hungry or uncomfortable, children between about six months and two years are constantly discovering. Their world is a brand new version of things we have been taking for granted for years. If we pay attention we can look at things as fresh and intriguing and share their joy and wonder.

There is possibly no other sound as pure as the uncontrolled laugh of a little child whose delight at something explodes in cascading giggles. If we could bottle that sound, it might become the best treatment for depression.

Maybe it’s because the ocean has always been a healing place for me that I find the sounds of seagulls a call to peace and stillness. The ocean is a noisy place with crashing waves, rushing winds, all the people sharing the beach, and the calls of sea birds. But for me each of these can be either a jumble of different instruments tuning up against each other or a symphony of high drama and calming intervals. In this music, the seagulls act as the conductor whose tap for attention guides the listeners to join with the practiced sounds and form a new unity. The ocean is my calm scene.

Try this. Shed the skin of what you just came from and sit still somewhere. Turn off thinking about what you’ve been doing and what you are going to do. Concentrate on senses and ask yourself:

– what do I see?

– what do I hear

– what do I smell?

– how do I feel?

Then close your eyes and ask the same questions. Chances are, you will hear and smell more. You might see things you’ve just noticed in your imagination. You might be surprised at the new sounds that have joined those before you closed your eyes.

Outcome: If you are lucky and able to turn off the rest of your day, prior and coming, you will find before you a richer environment than you thought possible. A walk in the woods becomes a mindful adventure. A pause in a field becomes an aviary. And chances are, you will really smell the sea air or the musty floor of a forest or even nearby flowers you don’t need to stick your nose into.

But there is another layer of paying attention. You begin to notice with your seeing and hearing and feeling the way things appear in these moments. Instead of “seeing” a few birds, you might notice their interactions and imagine their communication.

When you hear a group of children playing, you begin to pay attention to the changes in tone, volume, and expressions, especially if you close your eyes. You might have been annoyed at the “noise,” but now you notice play, friendship, happiness, or sadness and anger. It’s clear to you there is lots more going on around you…layers.

One layer I can get to if I’m really lucky is what I call the focus layer. Since I’ve been a little girl I’ve been able to intensify how I see.

I will never forget stopping to stare at a dragonfly. I began to focus down on it to blur everything around it. I saw the delicate cells in its wings and then noticed that the colorful body looked like an armored war vehicle. I saw how the different body parts were cleverly engineered to move independently. Then I looked at the creature’s eyes and was sure he was looking back at me. I swear I felt something. Whether or not I did connect, I recall thinking that was possible. And if you think about it, why not?

Have you ever seen your heart beat? I do almost any time I’m sitting quietly. It’s almost like my eyes are looking in that “focused down” way I think about, and I can see the beats as movement. I find it interesting that I can’t make myself do it. Gotta think about that. I still smile at his reaction when I said this to my doctor.

As the Northwest enters the rainy season, this little essay is my second commitment to spending a part of everyday outdoors, exercising my body as little as I can and really being wherever I land.

Come with me. Let me know what happens, because things will happen.

Or, Just Plain Stuck?

Just four days after I pledged to spend the next month seeking peace and finding room for my imagination to spread out, I got poison oak! Never had it as a child. I’ve got to say it is a real barricade to an easy mind. I can’t meditate; you know how they tell you to “just let idle thoughts pass through”? That doesn’t mean you can ignore that steady itch. I know there are far worse things I could be dealing with, but this one has put full stop to my ability to just think.

So I’ve let the challenge go for now. I will get better. In the four days before the attack, I came up with an outline for my next book, which I will reveal soon. For now, I’m just trying not to scare small children with how I look.

Back soon. Don’t give up on me, friends.

Stuck in the Middle Again

Stuck in the middle again

I’m somewhere between home and where I’m going, and it’s an uncomfortable place to be. Essentially, I’m nowhere. Having done really extensive editing and rewriting of my novel in the past year, I’m just dribbling out submissions to likely agents and publishers. This doesn’t feel purposeful or smart. 

My mind lies fallow, and it walks endlessly within itself looking for something to write. I am spending far too much time in this chair at my computer, where I grow sluggish and dull. 

So I’m challenging myself. Today is August 14, and I pledge to spend part of each day through September 15 following wherever I lead myself. That will mean stretching myself physically and emotionally and just letting myself pay attention to anything that passes by. I will meditate, listen, let my mind drift, and just BE.

Aside from just wandering, my quest will take me to delicious solitude at the ocean, in a forest, at a waterfall, drinking a glass of wine by myself in a quaint cafe, at a picnic table in a park, and other places that come to mind.

And I will have my journal with me. What happens, will happen, and I will be accutely aware. You’ll be hearing from me here frequently. I ask you to come with me on this journey.

In fact, if you would like to take my challenge, try this yourself. Think of it as our converstation in solitude. Please leave a comment so I know you are “on board.”

On Expectations and Disappointment

I watched the final episode of “Game of Thrones,” excited to see how such a mammoth undertaking could stop. I found it quite satisfying, nodding internally throughout. The next morning, I read angry, disappointed, horrified, upset reviews. Some had expected neatly tied plot themes or some cheaply found “happily ever after.”

As a story teller and writer, I usually let stories come at me.

Of course, it doesn’t end! I re-watched the last episode last night, having read all the dashed expectations of many who felt insulted, let down, left out, and more levels of disappointment. They lamented the rapid tying up of loose ends, while a fantastically sad dragon melted the meaningless symbol. So many bashed the endless walking of Tyrion as a waste of time.

But wait a minute. With all the killing, shuffling of thrones, vivid examples of how power corrupts, Tyrion reminds us that there are/were millions of unknown people living and struggling under that power. Dinklage’s remarkable acting reminds us of the people. He can still grieve for his flawed brother and sister, after viewing the real point of the stories. He cries for everyone.

It was not about the throne(s). It was about the unsullied, who were seemingly infinitely replacable. It was about using a whole population as a lure — or dare — to destroy a kingdom. It was about dynasties determining what happens next. Only Sam has continued to represent “the people,” although there have been a few others who tried, and he was laughed off the podium.

Jon, with his blank, miserable boo-boo face, returns to “the people.” Aryia leaves civilization to find something better. Sansa rules an untidy society somewhere between Westeros and the wildness of the far north. No one knows what The Broken King will do.

If I were to want more story, it would be about Jon and the other two Starks. It’s all about the people.

 

Over My Back Fence — 2

So still and clear following a week of weird weather. It’s dawn, the sun still below the horizon. My favorite part because it’s like a preview of the day to come.

Today, to the right, I see a sliver of new moon with its bright planet in attendance…travelers together though light years apart. How canny.

My view straight ahead to the fence and over is a dusty light rose illuminating branches just starting to pop the tiniest budlets of spring to come.

This all looks like hope to me, the silent promise that Nature will demand to be. This, despite a world trying to bring it down by ignorance or greed. Doesn’t matter which, does it?

I can only imagine what would happen if deniers and ruiners sat quietly gazing out their eastern windows each morning. Sadly, they won’t.

While I write, the moon’s friendly planet begins to disappear. Only because it’s harder to send sparkles across light years. Like all of Nature, it’s still there.

Believe it’s there; use hope.

 

Idle Hearing

Amid the confusion of random sounds,

I rest my eyes and let the din recede.

Single sounds emerge.

A child cries: “look Mommy.”

A dog barks sharply.

Birds’ wings rustle.

A car door slams.

A cell phone rings.

An angry discussion approaches and fades..

A baby’s rattle falls, jingling.

A customer exclaims over tomatoes.

Someone comments on the weather.

I drift, as a

Police siren knocks me off my chair.

March for Life

Listening to Joan Baez’s 75th birthday concert, singing “I am Just a Poor Boy” with Paul Simon, knowing of the tickets my son has for one of Elton John’s last concerts, I realize a whole generation of music is about to retire. So many have announced last tours, Simon among them, we may be left with only The Rolling Stones still gathering no moss.

My heart beats to the music of legendary musicians. I can still be moved to joy and tears by the ballads of resistence and hope and pain and peace. At least two generations have been born and grown since she first sang. The magic in the music has captured the hearts, minds, and imagination, of many of today’s youth.

In part, the music resonates because the battles have not been won. The struggles continue as though never fought. We must continue to work for the cause of the poor, of minorities, of the wounded and disabled, human rights, and groups still oppressed by ever new despots and tyrants. Since the first Earth Day in 1970 we still have a gravely endangered environment, perhaps in greater danger because what we have learned since is being ignored by those who reject science.

I echo what I’ve said here before; hadn’t we taken care of this in the 60s and 70s?

Old wounds are being opened; holocaust denial is spouted; our American Constitution is being used as a weapon…against children; dictators are snarking that “size matters”; and extreme evangelists are proclaiming nonsense, gleefully egged on by those in power.

I cling to the music. Although I will resist absurdity as loudly as I am able, I work hard to find peace in my heart and hope for our magnificent world.

I turn to nature, where life has only the choice to continue. And it does for the most part. We have brought many species to the edge of extinction, yet many persist. There is hope in what we observers anthropomorphize, but Nature pretty much ignores us and goes about its business. The natural world is too busy adjusting, adapting, and nurturing the fittest to be bothered by our fighting.

There will still be failures, but if we could only pause long enough to listen to the anthems ringing down the years, we might see how naive humans are about managing a world — our only one.

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a small planet orbiting around a very average star. But we can understand the universe, and that makes us very special.”                                — Stephen Hawkings

 

My Nervous Bakedown

Good morning, World.

Just before starting the baking race to the last farmers market for me this year, I admit I’ve been asking myself for months why I have neglected my writing. I’ve given myself a splendid excuse: must concentrate on making nourishing goodies for everyone else.

Oh, but wait. Isn’t that what so many of us have done in crafting our lives? Myself…for everyone else. Offer comfort, care, love, appropriate expressions of love. There it is: having given myself permission (I know now I’d never needed to ask) to lead my life boldly the way I want, I realize I’m still making excuses for not tending to my most fundamental joy.

I notice a conflict here. The baking and the community I’ve found at the farmers market both give me joy, but agreeing to let myself feel there isn’t time for anything else is still an excuse. I’ve been hiding inside a small, but satisfying, world. Yet I know there is a larger space I can enter. I’ve been there.

Who am I, then? If I were a baker, I’d have a bakery downtown, and become famous for my incredible scones, and actually make a living at it. Well, that’s not going to happen. I love baking, but it’s an interesting hobby I shall not leave behind.

Two weeks ago, I had what I cleverly called a “nervous bake-down.” Suddenly, for a day, I was forgetting ingredients, dropping little blueberry handpies on the floor, scattering flour much further than I ever had, and running to the store because I had run out of SUGAR! In my mind, the one that stands aside and watches me, I got a quick and vivid picture of the Muppet Swedish Chef, tossing a salad everywhere, and woke up.

I am most fundamentally, a writer. The simple truth is: writers write! I have not been writing, but the gears have been running constantly, impatiently, waiting only for me to engage. So, today while I bake, I will be paying attention to what is happening “upstairs,” where far too much dust has gathered.

Warning: I may suddenly disappear into the universe where my imagination magically flows onto the page. I’m packed and ready to go. I promise to send postcards from whatever brink I am teetering upon.