Need to Hear it

He came by to see me. I don’t see him very often. This time he came by and we had something to eat and something to drink.

We caught up. I don’t see him so often anymore. We caught up on what is happening in each other’s lives.

A little bit.

And there came that point.

We always come to that point.

I was actually trying to avoid it.

But there came that point when I brought up the same thing I bring up every time. For this person, it was to talk about how he could stress less and take care of himself. How he could give himself a break and not give in to everyone else’s expectations.

This time I said “What are you hearing when I tell you this? Because we have the same conversation every time we talk.”

We do. I think maybe he heard me. But I always think that.

Here’s something I’ve learned about giving people advice:

Every time I am telling someone else what they need to do

No matter how much they need to do it

No matter how much they don’t need to do it

I am telling myself what I should do.

That’s a saying, Every time you point your finger at someone, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at yourself.

So.

Right about now,

How would my life be better if I gave myself a break, and didn’t let other people’s expectations crush me?

What if I let there be some room for other people to help me, and let there be room for good things to happen?
What if I made time for the stuff I *like*, not just the stuff I am obligated to do?

Because I have this conversation every time.

I guess I still need to hear it.

Make it Last

Over the New Year’s weekend, I was reading a book The Last Policeman by Ben Winters.

 

It’s a police detective sci-fi novel. The police detective stuff has been done frequently, and done well. Ben Winters poses the scenario:

 

What if the police detective were trying to be a detective which a life-ending asteroid hurtling toward earth?

 

Slowly.

 

It will take about a year to get there.

 

So what does everyone do when they know this life (and that would be all human life) ending asteroid is coming?

 

I’ve heard the maxim, “live every day like it’s your last.”

 

Well, that’s nonsense. If this were my last day, You cannot reasonably do that. If this were my last day on earth, I certainly wouldn’t mow the lawn.

 

Or go to work.

 

But if it were my last year?

 

That’s a bigger scope. In this novel, anyone with means is considering leaving their jobs and going “bucket list.”

 

Which is all fine, but then how do basic needs get met?

 

Cell phone coverage gets a lot spottier when the people maintaining the lines are less motivated. And not even there.

 

Of course, reading about this story, I think about it. What would it be?

 

How could I really decide what I would choose to do with a consequenceless year?

 

What do I really like best?

 

I did not miss the irony that I was reading this book over the new year. Which is also my birthday.

 

What is it? What is the thing?

Cell phone coverage gets a lot spottier when the people maintaining the lines are less motivated. And not even there.

Of course, reading about this story, I think about it. What would it be?

How could I really decide what I would choose to do with a consequenceless year?

What do I really like best?

I did not miss the irony that I was reading this book over the new year. Which is also my birthday.

What is it? What is the thing?

One thing I know for sure is it’s not one thing.

It takes a bunch of different things to make a life satisfying and balanced

Like the commercial “Part of this balanced breakfast”

It takes the mind blowing and the mundane to make life work.

And it takes trying and tasting and moving on. Some of the things I loved once are not a good fit anymore.

And some of them I’ll never leave behind.

It’d fun to think about—what would I do if it were really the things I like best?

with a bang

Happy new year, readers! It’s 2018, how did that happen?

Whaaatttt?!

Time to think about what it is I’m doing with my years, as they stack up.  I did a new years ceremony with some friends, and we all came up with our WORD for the year. how we each want to show up and be in the next year.

It’s funny. At this point, I have crossed off a lot of the definable goals. Graduated from college. Have a husband, daughter and a mortgage, not in that order.

I have published a book. More than one.

I have a career.

So now it’s more about how I want to feel.

Have you seen that video of Jim Carrey talking? He says “I wish everyone could be rich and famous, so they could see that it isn’t the answer to anything.”

Well, damn. So what is?

All those things I felt like I had to have, like i couldn’t be me until i had them–the achievements and statuses–what now?

Me and my friends wanted to think about what we wanted to feel like. How we wanted to experience life.

This is a new idea for me. Is it because I have reached a certain age? Or is the whole zeitgeist coming to realize this?

The phrase is “core desired feelings.”  How does my life make me feel? Is that how I want to feel? If not, can I do something to change it?

Guess what my word is. I choose:

EXPLOSION

Go big or go home! But still, they way I think about it is that explosions have to be very strategic or they are not effective.

I want to explode on my days and in my life with precision, to make an IMPACT.

that requires directing my energy and then

BAM

That’s how I want to live in 2018. That’s how I want to feel.

books I read in 2017

Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera

Hero of a thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (audio)

Heritage of Cyador by L.E. MOdessit Jr.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
Amy Cuddy

Cyador’s Heirs (Saga of Recluce Book 17)
L. E. Modesitt Jr.

The Last Policeman: A Novel (Last Policeman Trilogy Book 1)
Ben H. Winters

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (An Hbj Modern Classic)
George Orwell

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Wisehouse Classics Edition)
Robert Louis Stevenson

The Golden Notebook: A Novel (Perennial Classics)
Doris Lessing

I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power
Brené Brown,

Poisonwell (Whispers from Mirrowen Book 3)
Jeff Wheeler

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Cal Newport, Jeff Bottoms,

Dryad-Born (Whispers from Mirrowen Book 2)
Jeff Wheeler

Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen Book 1)
Jeff Wheeler

The Silent Shield (The Kingfountain Series Book 5)
Jeff Wheeler

The Hollow Crown (The Kingfountain Series Book 4)
Jeff Wheeler
Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution
Brené Brown,

A Companion to Wolves (Iskryne Book 1)
Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette

Calamity (The Reckoners)
Brandon Sanderson

Firefight (Reckoners Book 2)
Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners Book 1)
Brandon Sanderson

The Interestings: A Novel
Meg Wolitzer

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg, Elisa Donovan, Random

The Ciphers of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood Book 2)
Jeff Wheeler

The Banished of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood Book 1)
Jeff Wheeler

The Scourge of Muirwood (Legends of Muirwood Book 3)
Jeff Wheeler

The Void of Muirwood (Covenant of Muirwood Book 3)
Jeff Wheeler

The Blight of Muirwood (Legends of Muirwood Book 2)
Jeff Wheeler

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage
Brené Brown,

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
Gary Chapman

Norse Mythology
Neil Gaiman

The Maid’s War (a Kingfountain prequel) (The Kingfountain Series)
Jeff Wheeler

The King’s Traitor (The Kingfountain Series Book 3)
Jeff Wheeler
The Thief’s Daughter (The Kingfountain Series Book 2)
Jeff Wheeler

Hex11 – The Complete Volume 1: The Magic Age Rises (Hex 11)
Kelly Sue Milano,

The Queen’s Poisoner (The Kingfountain Series Book 1)
Jeff Wheeler

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
Antonio Garcia Martinez

Seveneves: A Novel
Neal Stephenson

The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek Book 1)
F. A. Hayek,

The Greatest Thing

We eat white bread in my house. I feel a little bad about that. Shouldn’t we eat some kind of whole grain or darker bread? I grew up on Roman Meal.

Being “white bread” is an insult. It’s meant to imply being an unquestioning consumer, someone who takes what they are given and does not have their own personality or culture.

It’s true that most grocery store have a massive selection of several types of mass produced white bread. American bread is a very specific product. Germany, France, Africa and Russia have a very different understanding of bread.

I remember when my friend from Russia was looking through by cupboard and found the Poulsbo bread. She argued with me, very sincerely, that it was cake. And Poulsbo had whole sunflower seeds in it!

In the 19th century, most American households consumed bread made in the home. It was the woman’s job to take the bread from dough, through rising and kneading and baking and then to the table.

At that time, food safety was still a big issue. Food got transported around, and you bought at your own risk.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair described a horrific environment where animals were slaughtered and butchered to be sold as meat. They described sick and infected animals being slaughtered in one scene, and even described how one of the workers fell into the sausage machine and no one stopped production.

I’m pretty sure it was exaggerated, but after it was published in 1906 people were horrified. And that is how the Food and Drug Administration was born.

At this point in our lives, we feel confident that the grocery store will provide us edible food. We all eat a lot of it! But at the turn of the 20th century, that was not the case. When people saw dark bread, not only were they afraid of insects being part of the food (EWWW!) but there was the issue of mold.

A particularly nasty kind of mold on rye bread could kill you.

So. White bread became a symbol of health and purity.

Look! It’s white. You can see for yourself if it’s pure.

It was a big deal when wrapped bread was presented to the buying public. The loaves that previously were only trusted if they were made in your own home? Well, you could trust these loaves of bread. They are pure white, and no one has even TOUCHED them. See? They are wrapped and sanitary.

Wait for it…

THEN in 1928 they invented sliced bread. And boy was that great! Sliced bread still stands as a waterline for great achievements.

What could be better than pure white, wrapped and SLICED bread?

Women were freed from the tedious chore of making bread. Their families could eat and be healthy.

People could live their lives. And right then in history, their lives were all about the Great Depression and then World War 2.

With all that excitement, the fantastic achievement of pure white wholesome food lost its power. They had become part of the landscape.

And the landscape was changing. Counterculture was a thing. They beatniks and their disciples the Hippies despised white bread.

If you had any kind of personality, if you were woke at all you wouldn’t eat that plastic mass-produced Wonder Bread. Make your own! Use whole wheat!

Then then new movement was for more natural foods, and Silent Spring made everyone aware of pesticides.

So, the pure while food movement was superseded by a new green and brown food movement.

But the societal awareness and resulting government oversight of food safety and handling is what led us to be able to confidently demand new types of food.

My friend recently drank a Naked Juice from a convenience store and got food poisoning. Poor thing, but how ironic!

I can laugh about it because I don’t have to worry about her dying from this. In America, we have created a marketplace for food that is safe and secure. People die very seldom from food they buy

That might be a better invention than sliced bread.

New Year New Story

It’s been a crazy couple of years.

New year’s day is approaching and it makes me look back. Last year at this time I was signing the 5th job offer in 2 and a half years. 6 jobs in 3 years were far more than I had planned for.

Which meant that I had gone into a lot of new work places and had to figure out the lay of the land. And all of them were new kinds of jobs I’d never done before.

The first of the five was especially tough. I remember after the few months sitting in a meeting (nearly identical to a dozen previous meetings) and being terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing.

I was pretty sure that I would fail publicly and spectacularly.

Heart pounding, empty minded terrified.

So in those meetings, when the same words and arguments were being said, I was on fire. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t see a way to the job done. And I didn’t see a way to get support from my boss.

Since nothing was happening in the meeting, I flipped my notebook to the back page and started making new notes:

I approve of myself. I deeply and completely love myself.

This was the antidote to the terror.

A slow antidote to be sure. But I was convinced that everyone at my new job thought I was a failure. I was totally ready to agree with them.

Even before they said it.

That sense of failure was like an eclipse over productive thought. How could I possibly get any thoughtful work done with this terror taking up all the brain cycles?

So even stuff that I knew I could do, I couldn’t seem to get started on because I was so overwhelmed.

Until I found that antidote. Loosen the python and declare that no matter what happened I had my own back. I didn’t believe it at first, that I approved of myself. I filled paged with that sentence before it sank in a bit.

What amazed me was that once I loosened the stranglehold that this terror had on me, I could do my job better. I could think again, and had a better chance of succeeding.
There is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t until I changed the script that I could start a different story.

The script before had been that I was an imposter and a failure. The new script was that I was a worthwhile human being. It was a step up from failure, not a big jump but one that I could believe in.

And changing the story let the sun in. Once I found something more positive to say to myself, I could see where I could make some progress.

Like I said, it’s been a crazy last few years. And as I look forward to what’s ahead, I am remembering what I learned then. Choosing my story is a really good thing to remember.

I want to pick a good one.

The stories cats carry

Last year, after the last pageant practice, Veronica and I set off in search of a cat.

I had been wanting a cat for a few years. My previous cat had been dead for more than 5 years, and I knew it was time. I didn’t have a job, and that scared me.

When I didn’t have a job, should I really take on the new responsibility of a new pet?

And yet, maybe that was the best time. Veronica was SURE we should get a cat.

So we set off. We looked at and petted kitties, but Veronica had a spec: “I want an orange kitty.”

What about this cuddly calico?

Mmmm….. no. Isn’t there an orange kitty?

We found the last orange kitty in the surrounding area, a tiny starved kitten with a meow that would fill an auditorium.

Simon was the last of his brothers to get adopted. He was born in a shelter. And his little bones were so prominent, I learned more about the skeletal structure of a cat than I’d ever realized before.

He came to us with bite wounds that opened and bled for several months.

But he LOVED us. We fed him regularly, and he wanted to be next to us all the time. When I wake up in the morning, and I go to the bathroom first thing, this little orange cat would trot up and leap onto my lap while I’m on the toilet. He could not bear to be separated. He would lean into the pettings and scratchings.

Until he turned his teeth on me.

I could imagine him thinking “I love you! I love you!” until he suddenly thought, “I could kill you!”

He is after all a cat equipped with sharp teeth and claws.

And this cat had an affectionate and appreciative heart.

He would flip very unexpectedly from enthusiastic affection to bites that would leave teeth marks on our arms and hands.

If I wanted to anthropomorphize him, I would assume that his tough beginning with mean brothers (I assume it was his brothers, maybe it was his mom) who bit him when he was a helpless kitten.

He was traumatized, and learned some terrible habits of what love meant and what he needed to do to protect himself.

Then again, do cats have that same understanding as we do of psychological norms?

Undoubtedly not.

My invented narrative of why my cat behaves this way could be utterly nonsensical to him.

Pets are often the carriers of invented narratives from their people. We like to interpret their body language and likes and dislikes from our own perspectives.

Simon the Christmas cat has been given an invented story.

And often times friends and family who we meet around Christmas time get narratives assigned to them too. I will try to make a story to understand behavior that seems foreign to me.

But I could be entirely wrong. No doubt I am wrong in some percentage of my assumptions.

I would like to make room for these other friends and relations the way I make room for my kitty’s foibles. With love, and making room for what he lets me know he needs.

I like that strategy for promoting peace on earth.

Talk about Shame

There was a song on the radio from a couple years ago:

Can we pretend that the airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

Veronica and I had decided to go to dinner just her and me. Daddy wasn’t feeling great, and I was happy to be with her.

She’s getting a lot better at carrying her end of the conversation.

We are a conversational family.

Last month, Chris read to me from the news that it was the 100-year anniversary of communism.

“Yes, I read that! There was an essay in the Wall Street journal, dating the start from the Russian Revolution. Did you see it attributed 65 million deaths to communism?”

“What’s Communism?”

Stop.

Good Question, Veronica.

At this point in history, my daughter can live almost 9 years and not know the answer to that question.

“Remember how I talked about how people need a place to work so they can feed their families and have enough money to buy Christmas presents?”

She nods.

“Well, factories were built to make things and the people come work in the factories and make some money. But the people who built and owned the factories made a lot more money.

The people who worked in the factories started to think that wasn’t fair. And they came up with this idea that they should just take the factory and keep making things inside the factory but they would share all the money that used to go to the people that owned the factory.

Only it didn’t work out they way they hoped.”

She’s looking at me, full of questions.

“We are going to read Animal Farm together.”

Chris wasn’t sure that was a good idea. But Veronica loved it, getting very invested in all the animal characters. As soon as we finished, she wanted to read it again.

That was a month ago. This night I was listening to the radio and that song from my past came on.

Can we pretend that the airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

Veronica wants to know about my life. I want her to know who I am, and that means not treating her like a child.

“Veronica, this song reminds me of a time when I was really sad. It was from a few years ago.”

“What happened, Mommy?”

“It was because I was having a lot of trouble at work.” How do I explain what work politics are like?

“This guy at work who was in charge, even though he wasn’t my boss, had lied to my boss about me. He said that I didn’t tell him where I was going or what I was doing.

So my boss called me and told me that I was being bad.

I was so mad, because it wasn’t true, and I knew I had been telling people where I was going.

So I went outside, and walked around. I was furious, and I didn’t want to lose my temper. One of the people I worked with come out, and asked ‘What’s wrong?’

I told him that I didn’t want to talk about it, but he said he was my friend. He said I could trust him. So I told him what happened, and I didn’t want to be around that guy who had lied because I might punch him in the face.

Well, that friend went upstairs and told the guy what I said.

It wasn’t until the next day, that I realized I had proof that I had been telling people. I wrote a big email to my boss saying that I had been telling people and that this guy had lied, and I didn’t want to talk to him alone again, I would someone to help protect me.”

My daughter’s eyes were very big.

“So at the end of the day I got a call saying I was dangerous and I wasn’t allowed to come to work anymore.”

“What?!”

“Yes. They had to have someone come investigate.”

How do you explain HR to an 8 year old?”

“Kind of like the principal at school. That people said they would find out what really happened and decide if I was allowed to come back to work. She took two weeks to decide, and then when I came back, she said that she had asked everyone and they all agreed that I was the problem and I could only come back to work if I did certain things, and was worthy of returning.”

“Imagine, Veronica. If the principal told you that all the people in your class didn’t like you and agreed that you were the problem.”

Her eyes were turning red. “Did you speak to these people? I mean, how could you talk to them after that?”

This kid.

“Well, I tried to speak to them as little as possible, you can bet.  It hurt my feelings so much that all of them had decided behind my back and without telling me that they thought I was a problem.

But I did everything that lady said I had to do, and I wasn’t about to let them kick me out.”

She gave a fist pump.

“That’s what this song makes me think about. I was very sad. I cried every day, and when I heard this song, it answered the hurt in my heart. I really wanted a wish.

But guess what? That lady? It turned out SHE lied. I was so hurt and scared for 2 years, that I didn’t realize it. Then I started to carefully ask my coworkers: did this woman ever talk to you?

They all said no.

So she lied.”

Jaw open. “How could that be?”

“Remember Napoleon and Squealer? People who want power will lie.”

Big sigh.

“Yep. People will use lies and shame to make you afraid and do what they want.  Say things like ‘you promised.’ and make you feel like you have to believe them. But they are not trustworthy if they use shame.”

Fear and Shame are probably more active in children’s lives than in adults. For me, as a parent, I choose to present who I am to my daughter and let her know that she is not alone in these types of circumstances.

Thank you Orwell, for giving me a beautiful allegory to explain how people lie and manipulate.

 

It’s Not for Me

What with the holidays coming, people are worried about spending time with their family.

Families can be tricky. It’s hard to know what to say. And when to realize you know that you shouldn’t say certain things.

There are safe subjects: helpful tropes and platitudes.

I don’t like safe subjects. I like to be able to go deep.

But deep waters are dangerous. Someone could get hurt.

It’s good to have some prepared things to say.

When I was 18 and my friend came up to me so excited that she was engaged–to a 34-year-old rock’n’roll singer who had found religion. I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say.

It was almost a minute before I remembered.

“Congratulations,” I said.

She took a step back. “Thank you!” She shook her head, ” You’re the first person who has said that.”

I was not surprised to be the first. I was surprised I had remembered to say it.

I recognized the value of these sayings and started to collect them.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Best of luck.”

And my ambiguous favorite:

“Take Care.”

It’s not really about what I feel in these moments. It’s about giving a token of recognition to the person in front of me who needs it.

I see you. You.

I can wait. It’ll be my turn before long.

Mythic Gratitude

Thursday is thanksgiving in America. We tell each other the story of how the pilgrims came over from England to find religious freedom, and how so many died but they made friends with the native people who were here. Then they figured out how to have a harvest.

Then in November, they celebrated and were thankful with each other.

Is it true?

Well, it’s not entirely true. It’s certainly not the whole story.

The whole story is almost impossible to get. And I don’t mean that just for the pilgrims.

If I want the whole story, I have to pay attention while it’s happening. Each moment. But I do now have omnipresence and omni attention. I am mostly distracted and thinking about other stuff while my life is happening.

How aware am I of what the whole story of even my own life?

Many years ago, the historians of America decided to tell all the school children the story of the pilgrims and the first thanksgiving.

This decision reminds me of the Aeniad, which was sponsored by Augustus Caesar in the last few years BC.

Augustus wanted a good story that told his people what they needed to hear, a story that told them who they were and where they came from.

It was loosely based on facts they already knew. There was a guy named Aeneas in the Iliad.

But the part where he escaped and founded Rome? maybe. Could have been.

So Virgil put all the pieces together so the Romans could feel good about themselves.

There is no doubt that the historians who repurposed the first thanksgiving story used the Aeniad as inspiration.

How much of the virtuous kindly pilgrim story is true?

Some part. And even if it’s a very small part, it’s a nice thing to hold up as an example.

Let’s be thankful for where we are now, and leave behind the struggles of the past. Let’s make alliances and friends with people around us.

Let’s feast and be happy. Right here. Right now.

I’m very thankful for this moment. And all it contains.