Illuminations

The Ways I'm Happy to Be Like Mom

As the last of four children (next oldest sibling 7 years older), and after my parents divorced after 27 years of marriage when I was 13, I lived with my mother - just the two of us - as she re-discovered her independence and life goals. Our relationship was a bit cool because she was ready for an empty nest and I felt ready to get away from both my parents. Not because they were mean or abusive, to be clear. I had a positive and mostly trouble-free childhood. 

Except the trouble I sought and found all on my own, which was measurable. 

Until I was in my 30s, I didn't think my mother and I had much in common. As I blossomed at the same time mom was late-blooming, I saw how wrong I was.

And how incredibly talented and creative she was.

Be both loved setting up spaces so they felt more comforting and inspiring. Our tastes were totally different: her = grays, black, and white, me= orange, red, purple, and yellow.

Be both loved - and had a knack for - writing. During that last years of mom's life, we went on yearly mother/daughter trips to writer's conferences. She was 9/10ths of the way done with her memoir called, Place Settings in Time, when she died. I finished it for her based on her notes and our conversations. Below is a picture of the front and back of her book.

We both hated cooking and weren't very good at it (but had notable specialities).

She was a loner and had one best friend. A loner mom can come across a bit icy, but this behavior may not tell us how she feels or how much she loves. I didn't understand this distinction as a child but do now. I'm the same way and might even surpass her natural inclination to withdraw or disconnect from others. And yet I love deeply like she did.

And my mom loved to learn. I'm happy I inherited/picked up that preference from her. My dad was also a life-long learner, but in a different way. He = MacGiver explorations, she = earned her bachelors and masters degrees in her fifties. I enjoy both types of experimentation and growth, which is cool.

Our relationship was the strongest just before she died. I suppose that's better than the reverse situation. We were registered to attend the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference, but that never happened after she suffered a stroke and then died from it. I on a plane heading to see her when she died. I never got to say goodbye.

Being the expert-emotion-compartmentalizer that I am, I usually slide right by Mother's Day without saying much. This year, I want to share and remember many of the things that I miss about her.

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Like finding a twenty dollar bill under a sofa cushion...

For writers, there's no sweeter surprise than to find an unfinished piece of promising writing. I came across this incomplete essay yesterday. From 13 years ago! This is just the first snippet. What do you think, should I finish it? The first line cracked me up. I might've been drinking that day. Hahaha.
 
Big Venus
 
Some dogs shouldn’t screw. Like a liver and lime milkshake, not every combination works. Imagine what a cross between the squatty Dachshund and rotund Saint Bernard would look like – a blob with no legs? And how about the product of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane? Let’s just hope the mother was the Great Dane. If we bred a Chinese Crested Hairless and the Afghan Hound would the puppies sport clumps of shiny hair separated by bare spotted skin? There are over 400 dog breeds ranging in weight from three to three hundred pounds. And while the American Kennel Club (AKC) only recognizes about 160 breeds, puppy designers are busy mixing and matching canine genes to come up with the next hot dog. Popular combinations offer desirable traits such as small size, low shedding, friendly temperament, and smaller turds (although they rarely list turd size in their sales copy) and sell for as much or more than their purebred cousins.
 
Like garlic in an Italian kitchen, Poodles seem to be a favorite ingredient in designer puppy mixes. There’s the Bosipoo (Boston Terrier/Poodle), Chi-Poo - (Chihuahua/Poodle), Cockapoo - (Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix), Doxiepoo – (Dachshund/Poodle), and hundreds of other Poodle combinations. Are Poodles really that desirable, or do dog marketers find they can charge more for puppies with poo in their names?
 
Many of us have mixed breeds that happened the good old fashioned way – through casual unprotected sex. Midnight rendezvous at the playground, accidental trash can encounters, and unsupervised play dates bring all sorts together. And apparently canines are not picky about with whom they hump. Having attended the mandatory diversity training session at puppy orientation, they value all kinds, shapes and sizes (some over-achieving male dogs try to connect outside the canine species, in fact). While individual chemistry might still come into play, the fat dogs are likely getting as much tail as their slimmer pals, and tall dogs seem willing to squat low to tag those cut little designer poo dogs. The result of this hippy-like dog love is a four-legged furry rainbow. Sometimes called mutts (short for muttonheads) or mongrels, crossbreed dogs make the world a more interesting place. But do the combinations always work?

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.

Hazelinshadeblog

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. 


The acknowledgement that feeds us (and what feeds those we care about).

To be a great friend or partner, we should seek to understand the type of reinforcement that means the most to those we care about. It's not safe to assume it's similar to our preferences, and the golden rule (treat others as you want to be treated) may not hit the spot. 

I have one friend who lights up when they're asked good questions in an area where they're proficient. Another who wants to feel they're a nice person. One who needs lots of little acknowledgment, another who craves only occasional praise. And the target of the reinforcement is important, too.

People tell me all the time how organized I am. How on top of things I am. That's nice to hear but does not fuel me one bit. I had a reader tell me I was "wickedly inventive" and another said I had a terrific imagination. Hearing that felt awesome and energizing. 

Sure, it has a lot to do with upbringing and we could judge that being needy in X way is wrong or a sign of low self-esteem. But who cares about whether what they need seems appropriate or excessive?  They need it and we care about them.

My goal is to provide honest reinforcement BEFORE they ask for, or hint for, it (when concern/disappointment has started to bubble).

Humans are enigmatic, unpredictable, and chaotic beings who have lived and been shaped by a circuitous life. Amazingly talented and terrifically flawed.


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.


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! 


Planning is NOT a Four Letter Word

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Caveat* I acknowledge that some are not comforted by the idea of planning when faced with uncertainty. But I am. It's December 31st, and I've got my new Panda Planner set up and ready to use tomorrow morning. 

  • I've taped my 2021 plan (it's flexible and might change) into the back of my planner. You can see my plan here.
  • The monthly page is filled out - not much information here as it's a snapshot.
  • Week 1 weekly page is completed - lots of great detail here for how I can have a successful week (taking uncertainties into account).
  • Day 1 daily page is ready to go. I'll fill in the first part of the day tomorrow morning. Five minutes. Then I'll complete the End of Day Review and prep the next day's page tomorrow night. Five minutes. Here's what that page looks like.

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Ten minutes each day. Another five minutes once per week. This works for me, but I'm a plotter, a planner, and a recovering control freak. And agile planner, though! I hope you've created whatever plan - or anti-plan - that works best for you.

Happy New Year! Yippee for 2021! 


We Live in the Future - So Why Not Dream Big?

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I've written about how we live in the future. We anticipate and prepare for what we think is going to happen. Whether that be a terrific vacation or dreadful 4-day zoom conference with presenters who will read from their busy Powerpoint slides. 

It's a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy and a dash of social construction at work. That's why it's important to have some big goal, maybe an epoch goal, to live toward. 

As we tumble into 2021, we can dwell on the realities of the pandemic and become paralyzed, or we can play full out in our best pandemic-modified way. The former likely feels more natural, but the latter will serve us well. 

We can make better things happen as we're living into an exciting future than we can when preparing for a depressing one.