Choice

These are uncertain times. That’s what all the commercials are calling it.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt are in abundance. All of those things make people scared and unable to act.

It’s finally September. In fact, we are coming to the end of September. We are three quarters of the way through this year.

What a year! Back in March, one quarter of the year had passed and we were told to stay home. Like an inverse hibernation. Stay home this spring.  Don’t leave. Don’t come out.

And then it became the summer too. And apparently the fall.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt is a well-known inhibitor. It even has a Wikipedia entry. Don’t think, just do what you are told. Wikipedia says it can “discourage decision-makers from choosing”

Stay. Be afraid. Be uncertain.

But time is passing. With every moment comes the need to make choices. Even if the choice is to remain.

For the most part, I remain. But I refuse to be choiceless. With every breath I have volition.

I choose to remain. Choice brings air back. If I choose to remain, what other choices are there?

I do not choose fear. There are sure things I do not doubt. I choose the opposite of fear.

“Perfect love casts out fear”   

I can show love. I can give love to the people around me. To get outside the choicelessness of fear and doubt, I choose to love who and what is around me.

I know I can love my family. Then I can stretch that love and give it out to the people who are less easy to love.

That makes room for more choice. More air. Freedom.

There is always fear, uncertainty and doubt.

There is also

always

Love, surety and choice.

I choose love. The rest will follow.

100 books

This list of 100 novels was drawn up by the editorial board of Modern Library. Where possible, book titles have been linked to either the original New York Times review or a later article about the book.

1. “Ulysses,” James Joyce READ

2. “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald READ

3. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” James Joyce READ

4. “Lolita,” Vladimir Nabokov READ

5. “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley

6. “The Sound and the Fury,” William Faulkner READ

7. “Catch-22,” Joseph Heller READ

8. “Darkness at Noon,” Arthur Koestler

9. “Sons and Lovers,” D. H. Lawrence

10. “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck READ

11. “Under the Volcano,” Malcolm Lowry

12. “The Way of All Flesh,” Samuel Butler

13. “1984,” George Orwell READ

14. “I, Claudius,” Robert Graves

15. “To the Lighthouse,” Virginia Woolf READ

16. “An American Tragedy,” Theodore Dreiser

17. “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Carson McCullers

18. “Slaughterhouse Five,” Kurt Vonnegut Started

19. “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison READ

20. “Native Son,” Richard Wright Started

21. “Henderson the Rain King,” Saul Bellow

22. “Appointment in Samarra,” John O’ Hara

23. “U.S.A.” (trilogy), John Dos Passos

24. “Winesburg, Ohio,” Sherwood Anderson READ

25. “A Passage to India,” E. M. Forster

26. “The Wings of the Dove,” Henry James

27. “The Ambassadors,” Henry James READ

28. “Tender Is the Night,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

29. “The Studs Lonigan Trilogy,” James T. Farrell

30. “The Good Soldier,” Ford Madox Ford READ

31. “Animal Farm,” George OrwellREAD

32. “The Golden Bowl,” Henry James

33. “Sister Carrie,” Theodore Dreiser READ

34. “A Handful of Dust,” Evelyn Waugh

35. “As I Lay Dying,” William Faulkner

36. “All the King’s Men,” Robert Penn Warren READ

37. “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” Thornton Wilder

38. “Howards End,” E. M. Forster

39. “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” James Baldwin

40. “The Heart of the Matter,” Graham Greene

41. “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding

42. “Deliverance,” James Dickey

43. “A Dance to the Music of Time” (series), Anthony Powell

44. “Point Counter Point,” Aldous Huxley

45. “The Sun Also Rises,” Ernest Hemingway

46. “The Secret Agent,” Joseph Conrad

47. “Nostromo,” Joseph Conrad

48. “The Rainbow,” D. H. Lawrence

49. “Women in Love,” D. H. Lawrence

50. “Tropic of Cancer,” Henry Miller

51. “The Naked and the Dead,” Norman Mailer

52. “Portnoy’s Complaint,” Philip Roth READ

53. “Pale Fire,” Vladimir Nabokov

54. “Light in August,” William Faulkner READ

55. “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac READ

56. “The Maltese Falcon,” Dashiell Hammett READ

57. “Parade’s End,” Ford Madox Ford

58. “The Age of Innocence,” Edith Wharton READ

59. “Zuleika Dobson,” Max Beerbohm

60. “The Moviegoer,” Walker Percy

61. “Death Comes to the Archbishop,” Willa Cather READ

62. “From Here to Eternity,” James Jones

63. “The Wapshot Chronicles,” John Cheever

64. “The Catcher in the Rye,” J. D. Salinger READ

65. “A Clockwork Orange,” Anthony Burgess

66. “Of Human Bondage,” W. Somerset Maugham

67. “Heart of Darkness,” Joseph Conrad READ

68. “Main Street,” Sinclair Lewis READ

69. “The House of Mirth,” Edith Wharton READ

70. “The Alexandria Quartet,” Lawrence Durrell

71. “A High Wind in Jamaica,” Richard Hughes

72. “A House for Ms. Biswas,” V. S. Naipaul

73. “The Day of the Locust,” Nathaniel West

74. “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway

75. “Scoop,” Evelyn Waugh

76. “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” Muriel Spark

77. “Finnegans Wake,” James Joyce

78. “Kim,” Rudyard Kipling READ

79. “A Room With a View,” E. M. Forster

80. “Brideshead Revisited,” Evelyn Waugh

81. “The Adventures of Augie March,” Saul Bellow READ

82. “Angle of Repose,” Wallace Stegner

83. “A Bend in the River,” V. S. Naipaul

84. “The Death of the Heart,” Elizabeth Bowen

85. “Lord Jim,” Joseph Conrad

86. “Ragtime,” E. L. Doctorow

87. “The Old Wives’ Tale,” Arnold Bennett

88. “The Call of the Wild,” Jack London READ

89. “Loving,” Henry Green

90. “Midnight’s Children,” Salman Rushdie

91. “Tobacco Road,” Erskine Caldwell

92. “Ironweed,” William Kennedy

93. “The Magus,” John Fowles

94. “Wide Sargasso Sea,” Jean Rhys

95. “Under the Net,” Iris Murdoch

96. “Sophie’s Choice,” William Styron

97. “The Sheltering Sky,” Paul Bowles

98. “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” James M. Cain

99. “The Ginger Man,” J. P. Donleavy

100. “The Magnificent Ambersons,” Booth Tarkington READ

Say that again

A how-to-do-webinars webinar from Zoom told me that I should repeat questions three times in order to get the attention of the participants.

Three times. Webinars are so annoying right? No one pays attention!

Well…

This week reminded me that getting things wrong is far more common than getting it right.

There are so many many many ways to get it wrong! And only one way to get it right.

That’s how it is. I’m going to have to come back around and do it again to get it right.  First pancake is always a disaster? It’s not just pancakes, I fear.

First time is not the charm. If I’ve ever gotten it right the first time it was a fluke.

And yet. I hate making mistakes.

Some mistakes are barely noticeable. Drop a cookie? 5 second rule, pick it up and I’m back on my way.

Some mistakes hurt. They hurt me and they hurt others. I know that crushing disappointment in myself: regret and shame.

How do I make it right?  What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get it right?

Didn’t I just finish saying that mistakes are inevitable? I still feel like there is something wrong with ME. How do I grapple with this?

This is how the world works. Mercifully, there is a corollary system: resiliency. We can recover and heal from mistakes. With patience and goodwill, things get on track.

Do-overs have to be part of the plan. And do-overs can include doing it over as something completely different. There is more than one way to do is right the second time.

With persistence, there will be a way to get to good.

It’s not helpful to have a get-it-right-right-now expectation. I will be disappointed.

I have to plan on a few tries. And keep trying.

Equally Impossible

Weekly wonder

Six months ago, our government asked us to stay home to avoid spreading the Coronavirus. No one expected that we would be home this long. I am in a situation I never thought I would have to face.

I am not sick, which is good. I am, however, trying to keep my spirits up. All my plans are impossible now. Or, at the very least, not possible NOW.

I hear people say they are trying to figure out what the new normal is going to be. And I hear other people say normal is never going to happen again.

But I never wanted to be normal.

I am thinking of a life maxim I found years ago. This was a time when I felt trapped and hopeless. Everything was impossible.

But if everything was impossible, then everything was equally possible. It’s algebra.

This maxim lets me shift my focus on the other variable in the equation. There is some possibility in everything.

It may be small, but I can look for it. Or I can believe in it.

Right now, looking for it takes imagination. What will be possible?

What can I imagine and what can I plan for?

I would love to go to Paris. That is something I can plan for. I can make sure I have a passport, and I can think of what I will pack. That is practical imagination.

I like my career, but what if I imagined a better one? What would that be like? What kinds of things would I need to know to make that upgrade? What could I start to work on?

Normal was a long time ago. This is a time for imagination. This space is intentionally blank. And I plan to fill it with intention.

What else is possible?

The Good Fight – by Liane Davey

I don’t like to fight.  I can be clear with my opinions, but sometimes when I get resistance, I can compromise to reach consensus. Can’t we all just agree?

I don’t like how that feels. I’ve had that after-the-fact burn when I didn’t stand up for myself. I’ve spent sleepless nights plotting how to turn things around to how I wanted it to go the first time.


I’d like to be poised and articulate in tense moments. That’s why I picked up this book. I was not disappointed. Liane Davey gets it. The Good Fight shares how she learned to take her “conflict avoidant” instincts and become a person willing to have the fight that needs to happen.

It’s not easy. We weasel our way out of it. She calls out the sneaky tactics. I know I’ve cheated and not invited the opposition to a planning meeting. I’ve thought “I already know that person won’t like it, so I’ll go AROUND him and get what I’m looking for.”

She calls this “conflict debt.” It is building up a bunch of baggage that will need to be dealt with eventually. And it doesn’t’ smell better with age.

I know I’ve wasted years of my life avoiding conversations. I’ve left jobs because I couldn’t see a way around it.

This book made me rethink everything. That one co-worker I couldn’t stand for YEARS? What if I’d said something earlier? How would things be different? Even if he didn’t change, I wonder if I would have been happier if I’d spoken and been true to myself.

And what if I tried it in now? That just got real.

Liane has chapters for that.  If I’m supposed to start a new habit of facing the conflict, I need some scripts. She has some good ones.

I like the “two truths” where she suggests stating the two viewpoints in conflict.

For example:

The customer says they didn’t get the equipment that was shipped.

The warehouse is hot, swearing that they shipped it.

I’m the PM so I call I meeting to come up with our plan. Warehouse is so mad they’re barely speaking. Salesguy is not about to back down.

After some tense discussion I say:

“Our customer says they did not receive the equipment. Warehouse says they shipped it. This can’t be the first time this kind of discrepancy has happened. What was done when this happened before?”

No blame. I stated things clearly. This broke the logjam. We got a plan for action that everyone could agree with.

Here’s what we avoided: months of back and forth finger pointing and business lost because of poor service to our customer.

That’s what developing a conflict habit can do. It’s not impossible. People can learn, and things can change.

I’d like more of that. I’m going to read this book more than once.

Written by Murphy

the view from the sidewalk

“Veronica, there is a romantic appreciation for eating on the sidewalk. Paris is famous for having tables outside where you can eat, drink and watch the people go by.”

At our table right below the interstate highway, there are no people walking by.  The Pandemic added the ambiance of tightly masked wait staff and roaring traffic. I shrugged “Here we can only watch cars drive by, not people.”

“Look mommy, there is a doggie! Care are interesting!”

I smiled, still grateful for the experience of being fed outside my home. Even cars driving by are novel right now.

Restaurants were not a thing in the oldest books I’ve read. Don Quixote and Shakespeare only have food in homes or inns. Restaurants came along later.

The prize for first restaurant goes to China, centuries before France got the idea. France started fancy restaurants about a hundred years before their famous revolution. This fits, because if France was the first to have meals served at a restaurant, they also had a counter-movement with the cafes.

Café in French, and in a lot of other languages – literally means Coffee.

You know how—when they are open—Starbucks is a nice place to buy a cup of coffee and hang out?

That’s what the Cafes started as. It’s too much of a commitment to buy a whole meal. But a coffee? Almost everyone can afford a cuppa joe. London had these Cafes as well, and all this egalitarian sitting around together had an effect. Ever hear of the Age of Enlightenment? All those diverse people mingling together and talking came up with some crazy ideas. Some of them stuck.

Isaac Newton, Hobbes, Galileo and the Thomas-es Paine and Jefferson are products of this coffee pot.

Having a place to explore ideas will change the world. The United States of America is directly a result if it.

But the time I was thinking of when I mentioned sidewalk cafes to my daughter was the glamorous Paris between the wars. Coco Chanel, Picasso, James Joyce and Josephine Baker ate on the sidewalk.

They didn’t have the interstate highway along with. But I think they were pretty sure the world was changing. They were doing everything they could to change it.  They were being as much themselves as they possibly could be, which changed everything.

I would sure like things to change for the better. I know I can’t do much to change other people, but I’d like to follow what those artists did. The best I can do for today is eat outside. That’s a little better.

And adding my little bit of wonder to the week is good too.

what America looks like

If we judge by how hard it is to find camping gear, most of America has packed their cars and pitched a tent in a National Park this summer.

It’s the sort of thing Karl Marx would have approved of, but the National Parks are an American invention. At this time, there are 61 parks set aside for people to visit. Protected and preserved, the federal government maintains these parks for tourists.

These places are really unique. They are unbelievable. In fact, most people didn’t believe it.

The traveler’s tall tale is well known. Homer’s Odyssey had impossible stories that couldn’t be found in real life- the cyclops and sirens threatening the sailors’ lives. Marco Polo claimed to have seen marvels on his trip to China.

And the national parks have to be seen to be believed. Geysers can’t be a real thing! Until you see it. And you see several the same day, like I did in Yellowstone. I could not have imagined it until I saw it myself.

Sequoia trees, inconceivably large, were actually used in sideshows. They would fell a tree, cut it into pieces and reassemble it at the far end. Except—people still didn’t believe it was real. It was just too incredible.

Americans hear about these natural wonders, but not very many people could go. Once trains were built, some visitors could come. But when roads and cars caught up, that’s when people could finally make the trip. 50s families took to the road to see for themselves.

1950s and 60s, people drove all over the country. What followed was a time of big change of uprooting. People saw for themselves.

And now, this year, people are driving over to places they remember or have always wanted to see. They are getting away from their homes and seeing more of America.

People have been set free, too, to work from home. Americans can contemplate how they might pack up their internet and go somewhere else.

More things are possible than we had assumed. Between the interstate highway and the information highway, there are a lot of choices.

I wonder how America is going to look in ten years.

Take Care


We’ve all been cooped up, you know? When we heard they were opening the national parks we jumped. Ack up

The cat and away we go.

Those places take my breath away and make me think.

We were not the first people to see the Grand Canyon. But someone was. One of those first people had to wonder:

How would they ever get past it?  

either go down through it, or find a way to go around it,

Hard to say which was harder. You can’t easily tell the depth of the edges of this huge canyon.

But what caused it?  Surely the finger of a gigantic god dug out this terrible groove. That’s half what I believe today as I look at it.

Then the scientists took a look at it and did their hypothesis/observation magic and gave an answer:

The water did this.

See that tiny silver squiggle? No, at the actual bottom.That’s the river. It did this.

All of it?

Yes, all of it.

If I hadn’t seen it, I would never believe it possible. 

I’ve known rocks and I’ve known rivers. They don’t behave this way.

This rock did. This river did.

Rocks are strong and rivers are soft. But there is something I haven’t realized.

What rivers have I been ignoring? What rocks have I taken for granted?

This pandemic has shifted a lot of things I counted on.

This Canyon reminds me there are things in the world I didn’t expect. Immovable rocks can crumble.

When  we rode mules partway down, I was impressed with how strong and tireless these mules were. The American west was tamed by mules.

But even still we stopped a lot on the way up. Mules are not in fact tireless. We have to take care of them so they can do what we ask them to.

How’s your day?

Are you having a good day?

How about a nice day?

I think America started this greeting, “Have a nice day!”  It replaced the older “How do you do?” which became “howdy” before it feel out of use.

A day is a tidy package. It’s a handy size: small enough to grapple with, big enough to fit some significant things.

We can deal with a day. We can ask about a day, and give our wishe…command?…for others to have a nice day.

It’s not insincere. I wish for others to have a nice day, because I really want a nice day for myself.

I would like to put my day to good use, and really enjoy it. And by enjoy, I mean fill it with productive activity.

I think about it a lot. What will I do with my day? How will I pack it appropriately?

I try. Every day I have intentions, and I start out with ideas about how and when I will do what.

I never quite make it. And I feel particularly guilty about it during this quarantine because there is no excuse. I have nowhere else to be, nothing to do but what I set out for myself.

And I still do not hit my target.

I just found this book: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. He’s collected the stories of artists—musicians, writers, painters, etc.—how they arranged their days.

They are short little snapshots, with alcohol featuring prominently across many lives. There is not a consistent thread. It feels like a reality TV show: “ At least I don’t do THAT!”

These influencers, these famous names, were trying. They had weird, often inconsiderate and toxic habits and requirements they performed in their days.

I am comforted to know they didn’t hit it either. But the range—Mahler was austere, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a bacchanal—the range gives me room to keep trying.

I’m trying. I’m trying to have a good day.

It’s gonna take awhile.

Shaggy Dog Story

My husband grew up with an Airedale terrier, and we have one. This is our second dog of the same breed. One of the good things about this breed is they don’t shed. Their hair is hair, not fur, and it is curly. Not quite as curly as a poodle, but definitely curly.

My hair is curly. We share that trait.

Stories about my kind of dog pop up sometimes. Airedale dogs were very popular at the turn of the 20th century and that’s when most of the Airedale stories happen.

James Thurber wrote The Dog that Bit People, a story that makes me laugh not the least because I recognize in the illustrations of the grumpy dog as my kind of dog.

The story I want to tell is about Garret Augustus Morgan, who was born 1877 and became a very influential inventor. He left school after 6th grade, and went on to  invent an award-winning smoke hood that helped fire fighters save lives. He got a medal and was made an honorary member of International Association of Fire Engineers. This invention was so effective it was used by the military in WW1.

About that time automobile traffic was becoming a thing, so he patented the green-yellow-red traffic lights so people could have some time to slow down.

These are some impressive, practical, and ingenious inventions. They have dramatically saved lives since they arrived.

They were not, however, the source of his commercial success. Garrett Morgan was black, the son of slaves. Because of bigotry, some people refused to buy his life saving smoke hood.

But his blackness gave him insight into a need that had not yet been addressed.

And this is where the dog comes in. Wait for it.

He was working on another invention in 1905– a liquid that would help smooth sewing machine needles so they wouldn’t catch on the fabric.  He noticed the chemical had another property: It could straighten hair.

As the story goes, he took this liquid and tested it on an Airedale.

Now, I know a few inventor types, and they can get pretty single-minded. I can picture Garrett Morgan wanting to find the right way to test this chemical.

But it wasn’t his Airedale.

It was his neighbor’s dog.

I am pretty sure Garrett Morgan was delighted to discover that his chemical solution worked very well as he straightened the coat of this local dog.

But he had not asked permission. He hadn’t even told his neighbor he would do this.

So after the successful hair treatment, doggie went home and was a stranger to his family. The dog’s owner wouldn’t let him in the house. What a transformation!

I can’t stop giggling at the idea of straightening a dog’s hair. Just how many treats did that take?

But Morgan launched a company of expanding hair care products. His photo in Wikipedia shows a very handsome black man with impeccably straightened hair.

I bet he was a fascinating man to talk to, and I can imagine his home constantly had experiments going on.

And my doggie was associated with that. I am delighted.