Time Out

Just wanted to let everyone know that I am taking a brief hiatus to work on my novel. 

I’ll be gone for a little while, but hopefully not forgotten. Cheers!

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Married People Conversations

Some of the best and strangest conversations I have ever had have been with my husband. We often find ourselves initially discussing relatively mundane topics that somehow morph through a series of crazy twists, turns and strange lateral leaps of thought, into something much more bizarre. I love it when that happens, and it happened again today.

We were driving back from eating dim sum with friends when my tummy started to rumble. Now, we love dim sum. In fact, we often crave it. But there are two dim sum meal aftereffects that we can always bank on—a trip to the potty exactly 1 hour later followed by a food coma shortly thereafter. This is why we never make definitive plans with anyone for several hours after eating dim sum. (We learned this lesson the hard way.)

This of course lead to an entire discussion around (you guessed it), poop. My husband said that pooping is the great equalizer. I agreed, but said that only works if you can visualize the person “in the act”. There are some people who I just couldn’t imagine on the throne and some that I very easily could. (Which was a little weird even to me.)

We ran through a few names to test this theory and to see if we could determine why we could picture some people on the potty and why other people we couldn’t. Here was our short analysis:

People we can picture on the can:
George Clooney – He’s a jokester and very accessible. Easy to envision. He probably also owned a fart machine or whoopee cushion at some point.

Prince – He always looks a little dirty and unkempt to me so picturing him on the commode isn’t that difficult. Note: Hubby couldn’t (or wouldn’t) picture this one.

Any U.S. President after President Theodore Roosevelt with the exception of Presidents John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. These two great men are icons, and icons do not potty in my mind.

The Presidents that served after Theodore Roosevelt are easy to picture in the bathroom, probably because it is one of the few places they could actually be alone. The exception would be President Lyndon Johnson who rather than interrupt himself mid-speech, would notoriously leave the door open when he went to the toilet so that cabinet members could watch him as he sat “doing his business”, issuing orders and so forth. (Seriously, you can google it.)

Any heavy metal rock singer – Too easy.

Anyone we know personally – Past bosses, friends, grocery store clerks, baristas…we don’t discriminate, we can visualize you all. (Sorry.)

Albert Einstein – He seems like a fun, down to earth genius that had a sense of humor. I bet he wrote formulas down on toilet paper the way some people jot ideas on restaurant napkins.

 

People we can NOT picture on the can:
Ryan Gosling– Did you see him in Crazy, Stupid, Love or The Notebook? I don’t even want to try. Envisioning him on the “john” would require demoting him from the pedestal he stands on in my mind. No way.

Gwyneth Paltrow – She seems so lady-like, squeaky clean and thin. I better she never eats and therefore never poops. (Although, she has published a cookbook, so I may be wrong.)

Any U.S. President before President Theodore Roosevelt. I think I just can’t picture any of our country’s forefathers in an out house or worse yet using a chamber pot. Too unpresidential for me to wrap my head around.

Any religious figure – Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Picturing religious figures having such a biological human experience is off-limits. (And may even be considered sacrilegious, so I’m not going there.)

So, our conclusion is that it’s “mostly” a great equalizer with some very important exceptions. We also determined that there are some discussions that we can only have with each other. (And everyone in the blogosphere.)

Photo Credit: Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi

Photo Credit: Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi

Jesus Took The Wheel

I was making my usual morning trek to Starbucks, where I like to sit and write while enjoying a low-fat vanilla latte. My mind was blank as I drove down the all too familiar roads—I guess you could say I was operating on autopilot. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, I surprised myself by saying out loud, “This isn’t where I want to be.“ I found myself steering the car to The Good Shepherd Catholic Church which was just a few blocks away. This was completely out of character for me since I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for over 25 years.

I had recently read a book called, “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible. It tells the true story of a Protestant being personally called by the Blessed Virgin Mary to experience and write about the six visionaries in Medjugorje who have been receiving daily visitations of the Blessed Mother since the early 80s. This simple book had a large impact on me, so much so that I called my mom and asked her to please find and mail my rosary to me so that I could begin reciting it. (Yet another Catholic ritual that I haven’t participated in since I was a child.)

For various reasons, I stopped going to Mass when I went away to college. I considered myself more spiritual than religious. In fact, I often referred to myself as a Spiritual Mutt since I was attracted to elements of several different religions, yet didn’t formally practice any of them. I have always believed in my heart that we are all praying to the same God, we just have different roads leading us to Him.

But today the road was undeniably leading back to my Catholic upbringing.

The main church was locked, but I discovered a small side chapel that was open. Inside, it was completely quiet and very, very charming. There was only one other soul there besides me, and she was quietly praying the rosary, oblivious to my presence. I sat down and started flipping through the pages of the church missal to see if I even remembered the flow of the Mass. I was surprised at how easily it all came back to me. I also noticed that a few of the words and responses had changed. You know you have been away from the Catholic church for a long time when the Vatican has made tweaks to the Mass during your absence!

As I was re-familiarizing myself with the Catholic church, I noticed that several other ladies had entered the little Chapel. About 5 minutes later, the church bells began ringing, announcing the noon hour. It was unexpected and beautiful. Almost immediately the women stood up and began praying aloud. Not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb, I popped up too and joined them as best I could. When they finished, music began softly playing through the speakers. Just one beautiful, instrumental song and then silence. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

I paused for a few moments and then stood to leave. I attempted to genuflect and quickly realized how out of shape I am when I had to struggle to get upright again. It was just one more reminder of how long it’s been since I’ve been to church. Kneeling and genuflecting was not this difficult or painful when I was a child.

On my way out, I quietly approached one of the women and asked what the noon prayer was called. She smiled and said it was The Angelus. Sitting back in my car, I had to look up The Angelus on my iPhone. It was worth a Google.

Turns out, it’s a Catholic prayer to Mary honoring the Incarnation. It is traditionally recited at 6am, noon and 6pm. French painter Jean-Francois Millet’s famous painting bears the same title. It features two peasants pausing in a field during sundown to say The Angelus. It now resides in The Louvre Museum in Paris.

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia, Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia, Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”

I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was there to experience The Angelus. It felt like it was meant as a gift. I made sure to say thank you.

 

 

1 Part King Missile / 3 Parts Jewel

King Missile, “Sensitive Artist“ lyrics: “I don’t go to recitals anymore, Because my hearing is too sensitive, And I don’t go to art galleries anymore, Because there are people there, And I can’t deal with people, Because they don’t understand me. I am sensitive…I am a sensitive artist…“

Today, as I was sitting out on the balcony eating my breakfast burrito (which tasted amazing by the way) I started to think about the novel that I have recently begun writing. I so desperately want to share the basic plot line with people to get their reaction but I know that will only serve to give me a temporary high and then will ultimately result in curtailing my progress. To many this may seem counterintuitive—positive feedback should mean an increase in productivity and a resurgence of creative energy. Not so with me. At least, not at this stage of the creative process.

If I share my ideas and concepts and I get a great reaction, then I’m elated. “They think I’m talented! I don’t suck. I knew this was a great idea!” And then 30 minutes to an hour later, a great sense of malaise sets in. Somehow I’m no longer excited about the project because my thirst for validation has been quenched. I also realize that sharing the completed novel with my previously exuberant friends, will no longer elicit the same over-the-top reaction, since I’ve removed the element of surprise. And then I will be left thinking, “I was right, I suck. This was a terrible idea! Maybe I can become a Starbucks barista. I hear they have good healthcare insurance.”

Much to my displeasure, I thrive on positive feedback and instant gratification, and wince at long, grueling tasks done in a vacuum with no cheering section. Worse yet, I positively shrivel up and cannot proceed creatively if surrounded by negative, critical judges and cynics. This doesn’t mean I can’t take constructive criticism or that I can’t work long hours alone. It just means I am a sensitive artist, and if you want to get the best work out of me you better play nicely.

Now, as with most human characteristics, our biggest flaws can also be our biggest attributes. Since I am so sensitive and often insecure about my own talent, I make it a point to build up the confidence and dole out praise (where deserved) for other people. Wherever I am— Starbucks, the grocery, the vet clinic—I am actively searching out opportunities to commend others on a job well done. If I have a particularly talented wait staff at a restaurant, then I compliment them and ask to speak to their manager so that I can tell their boss what a great job they are doing. If I see a child pick up some trash off the ground and deposit it in the garbage can without being asked, I thank him or her for their thoughtfulness. It never seems to amaze me how much a little recognition can brighten up a person’s spirit. This is especially true of adults who so often seem desperate for someone to simply acknowledge them in a positive light. They aren’t looking for a trophy or a blue 1st place ribbon, just a simple “thank you”, “good job” and, “I really appreciate all you do.“

In Jewel’s song, “I’m Sensitive”, she says:

“ So please be careful with me, I’m sensitive
And I’d like to stay that way.

I have this theory that if we’re told we’re bad
Then that’s the only idea we’ll ever have
But maybe if we are surrounded in beauty
Someday we will become what we see
‘Cause anyone can start a conflict
It’s harder yet to disregard it
I’d rather see the world from another angle
We are everyday angels
Be careful with me ’cause I’d like to stay that way“

So as it stands right now, I figure I am 1 part King Missile’s, “Sensitive Artist” and 3 parts Jewel’s, “I’m Sensitive.“

I’m working on developing a thicker skin and a more open heart. I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.

Lessons Relearned

Today my dog Hooper decided to wake me up at 8:30am. For most of the working world this would be considered “sleeping in”, but since I’m not currently working I just call it obnoxious. I like to sleep. I love to sleep. It’s a time when my brain shuts off and stops worrying about the “didn‘t dos”, “should have dones”, or “what ifs“. So at 8:30am when Hooper started barking like a banshee, I defiantly pulled the covers over my head and willed him to go back to sleep for a couple more hours. Unfortunately, my telepathic doggie snooze button didn’t work.

I grumpily stepped into my already laced tennis shoes and with Phyllis Diller-styled bed head accentuating my braless pajama attire, I headed out to the living room to let Hooper out of his crate. Normally he wouldn’t even be in a crate but since he is still recovering from ACL surgery, we have to keep him in there at nights and on a leash at all other times. This means I get to personally escort him via his leash to Pooh Corner in the backyard so he can fertilize our dying grass. “What a way to start the day!”

Now you probably just read that last line as being sarcastic, and while I was still inside my house, stumbling around with sleepy eyes, looking for Hooper’s leash, it was quite the cranky sarcastic internal thought. But once I got outside, and saw the fresh dew on the grass, the way the sun was shining through the trees and the neighbor’s magnolia tree in full bloom, I genuinely meant it in the most positive of ways, “What a way to start the day!”

I had forgotten how pretty mornings are when the world is just starting to wake up to a day full of new possibilities and promise. As I heard the birds chirping and felt the breeze go by I found myself taking in a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh air and mentally thanking God for a day well made. “Good job, God. You made a good day this morning. The weather is beautiful. Thank you.“

I figure we all want to be acknowledged for our efforts, and told that we’ve done a good job. Why would God be any different?

As I left the house to run my errands for the day, I thought about how so often I forget things that I already knew—like how beautiful mornings are and how peaceful it is to just take a few moments to appreciate the natural beauty around us. Or how it’s important to mix up the daily routine to keep life interesting—taking the scenic route, getting lost on purpose, trying a different coffee shop, etc.

Sometimes I think that I am just sleeping through life even when I’m fully awake. Just running on autopilot, and not living fully in the present moment. Maybe that’s the reason I like zombie movies so much—they’re not too far off from most people’s daily reality. World War Z may be real (metaphorically speaking of course) and we have to consciously fight it every day.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

It’s now 11:08am and I am sitting alone at a table in the upstairs outside eating area of my neighborhood grocery store sipping coffee and enjoying the cool weather. I’ve been visited by two birds hoping for a bite to eat and a tiny albino spider who upon further inspection appears to be a master web designer.

Maybe one of the points of me doing this blog is so that I don’t forget lessons when I learn them the first time. And if I do, I can always reread my posts to remember.

“What a way to start the day.“

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View from outside my local Marketstreet grocery.

 

 

A Tale of Three Mats

Photo Credit: someecards.com

Photo Credit: someecards.com

When our dog, Hooper, had knee surgery, we were told to keep him off of slick surfaces like hardwood floors to avoid him slipping and re-injuring his knee. Since our entire downstairs flooring is hardwood, sans two small rugs, this presented a significant problem. I started searching within our home for an inexpensive solution. SCORE! I found not 1, not 2 but 3 yoga mats in the process. We created a slip-free walkway leading from the back door to Hooper’s crate and to his “recovery” bed that we set up on the living room area rug. It was a perfect and economical solution albeit not a very attractive one.

My happiness at solving this dilemma was short-lived when I realized that having 3 yoga mats meant that I had the very good intention of developing a yoga practice at least 3 different times and never saw it through. Why?

I remember 10 years ago buying a yoga mat because my office was going to offer yoga classes during lunch once a week. I gladly signed up because I was interested in the practice and I desperately wanted to get in better shape for my wedding which was a year away. My instructor was amazing! She was patient, kind and taught yoga from both a physical and spiritual perspective. I enthusiastically looked forward to her classes each week. And then, unexpectedly, she moved away and my office never hired a replacement.

Several years later I saw an ad for yoga classes being held at my local recreation center. The price was inexpensive so I decided to give it a try. (I’m sure that’s when I bought the second mat, having long since forgotten where my first one was stored.) I wasn’t impressed with the instructors. It was a husband and wife team that would take turns teaching the classes. It was supposed to be a class for beginners but they moved so quickly from one position to the next that I got quickly frustrated. Their class was also missing the spiritual aspect that I desired. My beloved previous instructor would always begin class with a poignant story and end class with a beautiful meditation. This class just seemed cold and a little pretentious. Not what I was looking for.

I truly believe that “outer reflects inner”, and this situation was no exception. Even my clothes seemed to be repelled by this class. My shirt and glasses kept falling down while I was in the “Downward Dog” pose, my pants didn’t seem to fit right, and my hair kept slipping out of its pony tail. I was uncomfortable physically and emotionally—just all-around not a happy camper, so I quit after only a few classes. And I stayed away from yoga for years.

In the past year or two I have been thinking about yoga again. My intuitive mother-in-law gave me a yoga mat for Christmas to encourage me to take up the practice. In her mid 60s she is in much better physical shape than I am! I have seen her spring into a “Sun Salutation”, rapidly transitioning from one pose to another before comfortably resting with her legs in a pretzel and her back perfectly straight. She’s pretty amazing.

Two weeks ago I was ready to start trying my hand at yoga again. The mats spread across my living room floor are a daily reminder of this unfulfilled promise to myself. Unfortunately, I had an attack of vertigo that prevented me from starting. It’s a symptom of my Meniere’s Disease—an inner ear disorder that manifests itself with unannounced episodes of extreme vertigo, dizziness, nausea and exhaustion. The attack can lasts minutes or hours but the after effects lasts for days or weeks. There would definitely be no “Sun Salutations” for several days.

Photo Credit: The Big C

Photo Credit: The Big C

Last night I was watching an episode of “The Big C: Hereafter”. The main character, Cathy (Laura Linney) has been battling cancer for several seasons. Now, she is off chemotherapy and has moved into a hospice. He husband, Paul (Oliver Platt) has slipped into a deep depression causing him to stay in bed for days at a time eating nothing but Funyuns. When he finally makes it out of bed to visit his wife in hospice, she chastises him saying, “I can’t get out of bed, but you can, so you have to!” That one sentence struck a chord with me.

Now that I am feeling better and I can get out of bed, I have an obligation to do so. I may not be ready just yet to contort myself into crazy yoga positions but I can certainly stretch, walk and meditate. As they say, “it’s the journey not the destination”, and this journey starts with a single step and maybe a “Downward Dog” for Hooper’s amusement.