Breakthroughs

My Mother's Death Changed Everything: Maybe Covid Will, Too.

My mother died from complications of a stroke when I was forty-three-years-old. Her passing hit me like a ton of bricks and catalyzed a need within me to manifest a carpe diem life. We never know how many days we’ll have. On the plane ride home from my mother’s funeral, I decided to get a motorcycle. I selected a Honda 1500cc cruiser motorcycle I named Hazel, short for Purple Haze, on account of her purple flame gas tank.

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My first motorcycle didn’t have a name, but it would’ve been The Vibrator on account of its wobbling wheels and rusty, old body. I was a cash-strapped college student at the time, living in Tampa and working as a server at TGI Fridays. My tips paid for tuition, rent, and my addiction to disco bars, so there wasn’t much left for transportation.

What? Those are the correct order of priorities, right?

It was the 80s, and tube tops, wide pants, and big hair were the fashion. All three were problematic when on a motorcycle. I groaned when I bought my first hair-crushing helmet. The Vibrator, a 250cc Honda that had seen better days, was parked in a neighbor’s yard with a sign that read $125. I paid one hundred bucks and then taught myself how to drive it. This was before Google and You Tube, so I relied on my mechanical instincts to figure it out.

This is probably the right time to tell you I have no mechanical instincts.

I only crashed a few times.

Decades passed before I got Hazel, motorcycle #2. Although she wasn’t a fancy bike, Hazel fit my sassy mojo and was comfortable enough, especially after I added a custom Corbin seat and upgraded the suspension. After getting my riding legs and eyes back (where you look when driving a motorcycle is very important), I wanted more. Having and riding a motorcycle wasn’t enough carpe diem for me, so I asked my husband Bill an unexpected request.

I want to do a solo ride with Hazel around the country to promote one of my books.

Never mind that Hazel, a cruiser, was not designed for touring. Never mind that the farthest I’d been on a motorcycle was fifty miles around the Puget Sound when the ferries weren’t operating. I asked my Bill to support the crazy idea that I’d take forty days and go 9,400 miles through thirty-eight states.

Map of trip

Bill came back with a request of his own and went on a research trek in the Himalayan Mountains with other geologists at the same time as my motorcycle trip. There were ten days where we were unreachable to each other, but our separate adventures transformed us both. Carpe diem on steroids.

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I'm sharing this wee ditty to help me remember that sometimes the worst of times - like my mother's passing - catalyze the best and most interesting of times. I'm feel like this past year was a tipping point that I'd like to use as a springboard for my next big adventure. 


Why the stories we tell and retell reveal how we ought to live.

Imagine you’re at a gathering with friends. The mood is light and lively.  Adult beverages and tasty snacks abound. Each person tells stories that elicit sighs, laughs, or both. Anecdotes about the time they drifted out to sea on a float, survived an avalanche, drove a riding lawnmower into a canal, or accidentally blew up their work shed. Perhaps it’s the story about completing a marathon is most enthralling.

Now it’s your turn. Which stories will you tell?

Now imagine that you’re in a hospital bed dealing with stage four cancer. You take stock of your life and spend time with friends and family. Once the talk moves past treatment plans and prognosis, you recall and share the experiences that made you feel alive. Which stories will you remember?

Although these two situations couldn’t be more different, I believe we’d share some of the same stories. We love tales with twists, near misses, triumphs, conflicts, and flawed but determined heroes—in fiction and real life. Whether we’re chatting it up at a family reunion, reconnecting with a friend, or navigating a mid-life crisis, the anecdotes we share are often those where things went seriously sideways.  The times we nearly failed or did something we didn’t know was possible. We triumphed, or quasi-triumphed, through grit and a healthy dose of devil-may-care attitude. We played full out.

I’ve participated in lively gatherings and faced serious health troubles and noticed how stories affected my engagement and which tales pulled others in. In early 2020, these observations went KABOOM in my mind and I realized, for the first time in a palpable way, that our misadventures fuel fulfillment and contribution as much as, or more than, trouble-free experiences. Run of the mill successes are important but unremarkable. We don’t boast about the time we saved money for a year and bought a new Honda Accord. It’s the time we snuck into the monks’ hot springs that we brag about!

While this epiphany was fascinating and welcome, something else was brewing. Then I asked myself a simple but transformative question. How should this realization affect how I live?

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These are the opening words of an essay collection I'm working on called, Far From Ordinary

This epiphany is real, and something that is both haunting and shaping my actions. I fear that I've been living far too ordinarily for my spirit to thrive. And I am fueled by the notion that I know how to shake things up.


"Kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick" - Life in slow-sucking quicksand

As I watched a story on the CBS Sunday Morning show about Suleika Jaouad's challenge to move forward from leukemia, a Susan Sontag quote she shared stuck with me. Here's the quote:

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Susan Sontag

While I've felt challenged for several years, the last two have been particularly difficult and this quote gives me a bit of insight about why.

I have serious chronic health issues - medullary thyroid cancer (stage 4b), non-symptomatic multiple sclerosis, obesity, and osteoarthritis. Solidly in the kingdom of the sick.

And I have, in spite of this, interests, abilities, and what looks like a relatively normal day-to-day life that resides in the kingdom of the well.

It's hard to stay in a place of sickness. And it's hard to live like you're in both kingdoms at the same time.

  • We rise to the occasion, determined to fight, but when the fight is slow and constant, it's easy to let our commitment slip. I think this is one reason the covid-19 crisis has been so difficult for many - it has endured longer than our emergency coping strategies were designed to perform. This rings true regarding several of my chronic challenges.
  • I'm not built for this brand of steadiness. Chronic anything goes against my nature and strengths. I'm a starter. I'm an adventurer. I'm an innovator. I'm not an ultra-marathoner. I'm not a patient person.
  • Although my day-today life looks fairly normal and well, I struggle to improve my situation or heal my chronic maladies. I want to believe that many things are possible if I think and act in alignment but have discovered that this is often not the case. 

What can I learn from this observation? How might I help myself live solidly in both kingdoms and thrive?

My nature tells me I need to try something different. To attempt to generate a breakthrough. It is tiresome, however, to do this repeatedly with no meaningful results to show for my efforts. But this is my skillset and I don't know how else to be. 

What can I learn from this observation?


One is more than one: Reverberate in the Affirmative

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I believe in the power of the butterfly effect (from chaos theory, small changes can make a big difference) and that everything we do reverberates. Kind and helpful acts reverberate and so do mean and unhelpful ones. Everything we do is more than the sum of its parts. Nothing is just for this moment. 

It's an interesting idea to ponder as we plan our days and weeks and make choices about who we'll be in any given moment and how we'll act.

A kind thought is more than just that thought.

A mean thought is more than just that thought. 

Walking 20 minutes is more than 20 minutes of walking.

Eating that delicious donut is more than the five minutes and 500 calories. 

This is heavy. This opens up new possibilities. 

How about a weekly mantra.

One good act is more than one good act.

One is more than one.


ALWAYS Learn from Others - Adventures and Misadventures in Writing

I'm taking a class from Lit Reactor called, Short Story Mechanics, which is taught by Richard Thomas. Today's homework was to write five hooks (four first lines and one first paragraph) for five different potential stories. I just posted the hooks into the online classroom portal (also below). Richard will review them and select ONE that I will use to write a story throughout the rest of the two-week class. The recovering control freak in me is a bit tense about allowing Richard to choose the story I'll write, but I think it's good for me to surrender to learning. Heh, heh, heh.

I'd ask your opinion about which hooks seem most promising, but I'm already giving away too much power! Kidding... I'd love to know if any of these hooks make you want to learn more!

Lilith peered over the back of her sofa and through the window blind slats to take notes about everything she saw—the lovers, cheaters, crooks, tweakers, dealers, and deliveries—like she’d done day and night for the last week.

Lennox Turtleman felt desperate but hopeful as he lowered his skinny naked body into the sensory augmentation tank, pulled the lid closed, floated with arms and legs spread wide, and began hummed Somewhere Over the Rainbow, just as Madam Naranja had instructed.

Cross-eyed Tommy was not cross-eyed, just a terrible shot, and so much so he now used snakes to guarantee weekly collections were never late.

Fern practiced every night after her waitress shift at the Route 66 Diner for the open mic night at the High Noon Poetry Saloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sebastian pulled the wrecked Chrysler 300 rental car into the Key West Marriott at 7:55 a.m., five minutes before he was expected to deliver the opening keynote speech to a room full of professional gamblers. Right on time, he whispered to himself and then shouted a celebratory shit yeah while pumping both arms in front of his chest. He looked at his shredded jacket, bloody white shirt, and stained pants. He’d have no time to change clothes. He grimaced at his cut up face in the rear-view mirror and then shrugged. A bellhop opened the driver’s side door. Sebastian got out and stood tall and proud. The end of the necktie he’d knotted around his head hung down in front of his eyes. The bellhop looked horrified. Sebastian stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a flattened Banana MoonPie. He handed it to the young man and smiled as he marched into the hotel and headed toward the grand ballroom.


Ignite possibility by owning flaws - A life lesson from Eminem's 8 Mile

This is a post about organizing for possibility. I watched the movie 8 Mile, which stars rapper Eminem and is loosely based on his early life.

The movie features rap competitions where rappers battle each other with words. There are several rounds, and during each challenge the loser is eliminated until the final two face off for the championship. These raps are spontaneously generated because they don't know who they'll battle until it's announced. Each performer tries to one-up the other and show how clever and poetic they are (hurling personal insults an such). It takes a lot of talent to compete - a mastery with words, phrases, rhyme, and rhythm.

The winner earns street credibility.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to discuss the final scene in the movie.

The dramatic ending of the movie is one of these competitions. This is Eminem's shot to show what he's got. He blasts through the early rounds, destroying his opponents with words. And then he has to battle the champion.

The mood in the room is tense and the crowd is clearly rooting for the champion. There's a coin toss to determine who will go first - most prefer to go last. The champion wins the toss. Eminem will go first.

He has 90 seconds to give his best rap. How does he approach it? A bit shaky at first but then he does something fascinating. He disses himself. He admits his flaws, he acknowledges all the bad names people call him, he fesses up to all the trash talking that could be hurled his way. He gives it to the champion, too, by revealing that he'd attended a private school and came from a finer background than most people knew (which is embarrassing). He ends his rap by inviting the champion to "tell the crowd something they don't about me."

Whoa - he takes the wind right out of the champion's sail! The champion has nothing to say and he caves. Eminem is victorious.

While I was listening to Eminem's final rap, I couldn't help but think that Dale Carnegie would be proud. You might think that sounds crazy. In How to Win Friends and Influence People (still the best book on human relations IMHO) Carnegie recommends that we be the first to be open about our failings. That we own our flaws. That we beat everyone to the punch.

This is not the same thing as being down on ourselves. I'm not suggesting this. We are all highly talented and highly flawed. And when we can be open about those flaws, we are better able to use our talents fully because because we carry mental garbage about it. Being open also allows us to better address our flaws.

And to be clear, even though Eminem dissed himself, he knew he was talented. He had dreams he knew he could fulfill if he did his best.

We can be confident and open about our flaws.

As Eminem walks out of the building after becoming the new champion, the theme song to the movie, a song by Eminem called Lose Yourself, comes on and takes us through the credits. This song was featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler (and also in 2020 for Biden/Harris). The lyrics are quite well written and motivating. And the last line of the song says it all.

"You can do anything you put your mind to."

This is not a post about being down on ourselves. It's a post about being cool with you, warts and all, such that you can keep growing and improving.

Even though I ruined the ending for you, check out the movie if you haven't seen it. It has a lot of curse words and deals with mature themes, as we might expect from a gritty movie about struggling rappers from Detroit. You've been warned!

I include Lose Yourself on my exercise playlist because it's motivating! 


Elements of My 2021 Plan with Pics

I've been working on my plan for the year. Here are the elements.

  • Identify major thrusts/fuels that will be at my core.
  • Reflect on and define ONE area that I want to AMP UP and TWO practices/habits I'd like to reduce. 
  • I reminded myself of my decision filter (I wrote about that here).
  • Write a plan story (narrative that expresses what success will look and feel like). Adapted Scenario Based Planning method.
  • Created a digital vision board that corresponds to the story.

Here's my working draft. I've formatted the two rectangles so they fit perfectly when taped inside my Panda Planner, which I will use on a daily basis come January 1.

2021 Plan

And here's the corresponding digital vision board.

Edgy!

And here's my Panda Planner. I like this planner because it's flexible and helps keep me aligned and focused. I spend five minutes each morning and five minutes each evening working in the planner. These pics are from the Panda Planner website here.

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Classic_daily_1024x1024And here's how my 2021 plan will fit in the planner so I can regularly review it. I've just got paperclips on it right now because I'm still tweaking my plan. I'll tape it in so it's smooth.

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And that's what I've got done so far. I have my decision filter graphic as my phone wallpaper, and I'll put my vision board on my computer wallpaper. 

I hope you've been thinking about how to best roll into 2021. Happy New Year! 


Invitation: Let's Get Planning for a Satisfying 2021

I'll be taking the next two-three weeks to create my 2021 plan. I look forward to generating Big Hairy Audacious Agile Goals BHAAGS (extra "A" intentional) and a scenario plan story that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand and tingle. There's no downside to thinking big, as long as I have a process that allows me to track my progress and make adjustments. I'll use my Panda Planner to take stock of my daily achievements and plan for an adventurous and misadventurous day, week, month, and year. I'll be blogging about this. But for now, here's my first order of business.

Note: If you'd like to work on your 2021 plan, I've created a private and temporary Facebook Group. You can join me here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/736192860340186

  1. December 15-31st. Generate a vision story for 2021. Create a picture for what an adventurous and audacious year looks like. For me, for where I'm at in my life/health, for this time. By the 28th, I hope to have distilled and crafted a story that expresses my intention for 2021. Here's a copy of my 2019 Goal Statement that I'll be using as my template. Notice that the top portion expressed my key themes and thrusts and the bottom was my scenario plan (expressed in past tense). The way you format or color your story plan is up to you. I did mine this way because it's a perfect fit to adhere to the back page of my planner and I love ORANGE.

Lisas 2019 goal statement


A fruitful mindset for #NaNoWriMo

November 1st is almost here, and I've thought about the mindset that will serve writers well as they launch into #NaNoWriMo. The mindset has a few elements that are reinforced by recent blog posts (linked):

#1: Time is precious; choose wisely. I blogged about my Decision Filter here. I'm still reviewing this filter daily and it's helping me make better decisions about how I spend time. 

#2: Be a winner and you'll win. Put the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy to work for you. Think and act like a highly productive writer and you'll be one. 

#3: Believe that you're in the middle of doing something great. It's easy to give up or give in when we're in the messy middle of things and to doubt that we're on the right track. But here's the thing. Being in the middle of an epoch success can feel the same way. So don't give up. Believe you're in the process of an achievement.

4: Make unreasonable requests that aren't. We might be THIS close to our daily or weekly goals but have a substantial barrier. And while we probably can't manifest a million dollars into our bank accounts so we can rent a villa for the month, we can engage the people who love and admire us in an assist. Making unreasonable requests is a regular part of my regimen and has helped me generate breakthroughs.

I hope you have the BEST NaNoWriMo ever!


The Human Body is a System

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I had few health challenges until I was 35. Then the chaos-theory-reverberation-making-proverbial-shit-hit-the-fan. But this is not a woe is me post. It's a reflection on the circuitous path we have to walk/run/dance/jump when trying to investigate what ails us.

Wait, Lisa. Isn't that what doctors are for?

If I could hire a private investigator with a medical degree, sure. But our healthcare delivery system is fragmented and focused. And my primary care physician - theoretically the overseer of my care - is so overburdened that she is forced to farm out anything requiring more than ten minutes to resolve to specialists. 

I have a lot of "ologists" on my medical team. They're super smart about a few things. They've studied a small number of health problems in depth so they can get really good at treating them.

The problem with this is everything is connected. Human bodies are chaotic systems. Interesting fact: It was in the context of the body that Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, the Father of Systems Thinking, fathered systems thinking

"As long as we single out individual phenomena, we do not discover any fundamental difference between the living and the non-living." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An evolution of modern biological thought

"In order to understand an organized whole, we must know both the parts and the relations between them." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, The History and Status of General Systems Theory

Having specialists looking at their assigned piece of me is helpful but insufficient. My oncologist doesn't know about diet or metabolism. My endocrinologist doesn't know about cancer or the heart. My cardiologist doesn't know about the digestive tract. My neurologist doesn't know about arthritis or strength. My personal trainer (not an ologist, but on the team) doesn't know about medications and blood test results. But my cancer affects my digestion. And the oral chemo I take affects my heart. And my metabolism affects my thinking and movement. And my diet affects everything. 

My job is to discover how things are connected, make meaning, and fill in gaps. To do this, I listen to my ologists and do a lot of research using reliable sources. Maybe I go back to my ologists with my findings. Sometimes I'm on my own.

It's a lot of work and my most important job. And when I figure something out, it's sweet like cherry pie.