Action changes everything

There have been a few Saturdays when I have been invited to two birthday parties on the same day. Always, these birthday parties were for Veronica’s friends.

Yesterday, the second birthday party was for one of my friends. And we were all going to have a picnic at Shakespeare in Griffith Park.

Griffith Park is Hollywood–all the way Hollywood.

They were performing Measure for Measure which is very NOT Hollywood.

This is what I have learned about Hollywood from living here, and from experiencing the huge amount of entertainment that this juggernaut puts out:
Hollywood does not go deep. There is a limit to how deep you can go in a movie.

I like books, and a book can go deep. So deep.

I think that books turned into movies often are so disappointing. There are things that one can do with the material of a book that doesn’t translate into film, and vice versa.

Measure for Measure is Shakespeare’s ambitious exploration of justice and mercy. A town that’s gotten too lax with their morality, so the Duke decided to tighten things up and goes out of town so his deputy Angelo can do the job for him. Angelo immediately sentences a nobleman to death for getting his fiancée pregnant.

The doomed nobleman had a very moral sister, who postponed taking her vows to join a convent to save her brother’s life.

The conversations between Angelo and the sister really allow for this idea to be discussed. Isabella the nun could speak with innocence on the matter. Few can. Even Angelo, who condemns the sinning nobleman, proves that he is not innocent.

The idea of this play reminds me of Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece exploring whether a crime can be excused because of the greatness of the man who commits it.

Also, Isabella reminded me of Antigone, the Greek heroine of the play that gives up her life for honor.

Plays are best in expressing action. Books are better at showing thoughts.

I first read Measure for Measure when I was more of Angelo’s mindset. I had a lot of iron-clad judgments. I didn’t know how to break free of them.

Isabella was caught between love for her brother and her dedication to a chaste life. Still, she can see how he deserves mercy because she loves him so much.

There are not so many people dedicated to trying to be perfect. Isabella represents the contrast. She DID play by the rules. She was an ascetic, but she still found mercy in her heart.

Shakespeare did some exploration of the problem, some rhetoric in iambic pentameter. But the reason this play works is because the arguments are not as compelling as the actions.

The act of killing the nobleman is too far. Arguments are not enough to cover the wrongness of taking this man’s life.

Even in Crime and Punishment, the deep sticky thoughts of the hero would have remained only his business except that he acted.

And Angelo acted. He sentenced a man to death.

The action took it out of ideas and into reality.

Books are ideas. Plays are action. They are performed in Acts, for goodness sake!

The idea of judgement and mercy is a toy until it comes down to the action. And the act is the most real thing ever.

I have learned how to release judgement by this time. I have learned how to choose a better action than condemnation. Which means I can encounter this book or play in a different way. Which is part of what the glory of art is about.

What are you going to do?

It was becoming clear to me that downtown was for pedestrians. How had I never noticed this before? Perhaps this Friday was worse for foot traffic than usual.

I was not on foot. I was driving and I had two errands to do for work. One was to have a meeting with a new business contact, and another was to drop off a large amount of binders and paperwork.

I was late to the first meeting. I had forgotten how bad traffic was. The second problem was that I had put the address for where I was meeting the guy in my GPS.

This is another issue with downtown. I have to put my car somewhere while I go to the actual destination.

I hung a Ricky and found a parking structure. I hoped it wasn’t too far from the skyscraper that was my destination. Also, no chance for validation. One other catch: cash only.

Oh yeah. Cash is easy for under-the-table economies. I checked–I had a 20 and a few singles.

Hop out and walk the blocks to my meeting. He was generous about how late I was, and I accomplished my mission.

Now back to my car. I was starving. But this cash economy had me strapped.

Did I drive to the next location? Or walk with the heavy box?

I did have a cart with wheels.

But downtown Los Angeles was hilly.

I checked the GPS. It said a mile.

A mile.

One big factor was that the person I needed to deliver the documents to might not be there, and I might have to walk back with them.

It was decision time. What would I choose?

I decided to drive.

I drove out of the parking garage and got $2.50. I hoped the next parking garage took credit cards. Deeper downtown probably would.

The GPS couldn’t get signal inside the parking garage, so I couldn’t tell which direction I was supposed to turn when I got to the street. I turned left, hoping that was it.

I had to stop a lot, because of all the passengers going through the crosswalks. Good thing because it took time to get the turns from my GPS.

And when I thought I could turn right, I encountered a one-way street.

And now came that demon.

That demon which says “You made the wrong choice. You should have walked. This is taking too long and it would have been better to do it the other way.”

I engaged with that demon for a while, trying to figure out if that were true.

Had I made a stupid decision? Was this a dreadful mistake?

This kind of demon pops up a lot.

He’s my companion on most large projects. Did I do this right? Surely everyone but me would have seen the easy way to do it. Surely I am missing something and I am doing it all wrong.

This Friday, I quickly realized it was not helpful. I’d made my decision, and I couldn’t turn back anyway. By car, it was more like 5 miles to get to the next building.

But I got there. I would not have gotten then nearly as fast if I had turned around and second-guessed myself.

That’s the thing. Making a decision, even if it’s not the best decision of all possible decision in a universe of infinite possibilities, is the most productive thing to do.


Me and Veronica walked out of the store looking so cool.
I’d been trying to get rid of stuff in the house, because there seemed to be so much underfoot.
“Come on, Veronica, we are going to the thrift store.”
I’ve always gone to thrift stores. My favorite teddy bear as a child was one I chose from a Salvation Army store. She has a velvet tummy and I named her Deanna.
When I got older, my jones for shopping could only be fulfilled somewhere very cheap. Thrift stores it was. The aisles were full of random things, and it was easy to try a look that I happened across because it was so cheap.
At some point, in my early adulthood I came across an article praising the fashion sense of Diane Keaton. She said she was shocked at the acclaim when it began, right around when the movie Annie Hall came out. She said she was only shopping in thrift stores.
Oh really? This was the first time I had thought of thrift stores as cool. It had always seemed like something to be ashamed of.
But I had always secretly preferred the thrift store. I could go to the fancy department store of my youth, Lamont’s and see what I was supposed to wear to look cool. But it was all the same.
I wanted something different from what they had. And Salvation Army was full of different things. I could make my own look.
And that’s why I’m writing about it. There is a cult following of thrift store fashion. Diane Keaton was not the first or the last. We thrifters are ready to take chances. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be stuck with the choices some corporate person selected for me. I have my own ideas about what I like to wear.
Even if clothes and fashion are not your mode of artistic expression, this is something to remember. You and I–all of us– have more choices than the ones we’ve been given.
You are not stuck in a rut. Life can sometimes feel like we’ve been given a booklet of ration coupons, and we have to stand in line to get what’s ours.
There is so much more than that. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And we can rifle through what’s discarded, look around and see if there’s a road or even a deer path less traveled, to see who else we might want to be or where we might like to explore.
Veronica found a faux leather jacket in her size. After looking over the whole store, even lingering on a purple hat, she settled on the leather jacket. She feels pretty awesome.
So when we left the store, I felt pretty awesome too. We make our own choices.

If it’s not fun for everyone

When I was little, there was a lady in my church who had been a missionary to Indonesia.Sometimes she would tell stories, and I asked “You speak their language?”
“I did. I’ve forgotten now.”
Inconceivable! Knowledge so hard won, and then lost. It was so hard for me to wrap my mind around it.
Of course, I had so little knowledge of my own to preserve at that time. The goal then was to acquire it as fast as I could.
Now, I get it. Now I know what it’s like to have more knowledge than you can keep.
School is coming to a close. The teachers in grade school that gift our children with the knowledge they need, the same knowledge every year. Make the shapes of the letters this way. Line the numbers up that way.
Some children are eager. Some are eager to get to summer vacation.
Because you know what summer means?
And I am discovering that there is another kind of knowledge I’ve forgotten to keep.
How to play.
I heard an short story on NPR many years ago, about a married couple who sent their children to the grandparents for a weekend, and went completely unhinged because they had forgotten how to be left alone without someone to take care of.
And therefore they had forgotten how to take care of themselves.
I understood that story deeply. My daughter was barely two and I understood that I’d been so wrapped around her that my own needs were a distant memory.
SHE never wanted to do anything but play.
I watched her play. Sometimes I played with her.
But her play was not my play. She’s older now, and her play is still not my play.
What is my play?
Did I forget? Like my missionary friend forgot the language?
Maybe. I am going to have to study up on play. They experts in the field say play is something that you do that you wish you could keep doing.
What in my life qualifies as that?
That’s pathetic. It’s time I got more serious about doing what I like.
Summer’s coming. Vacation is almost here.
Honestly, what I really want to find is at least a few things that would be play for me AND play for Veronica. That would be a miracle!
It’s going to take some serious research to find that kind of play.
Still, it would be worth it.
I don’t want to dread summer.

Quantity and Quality

A friend of mine one talked about how if you gather enough of something together, it doesn’t matter what, it will be valuable.

“If you gather a whole bunch of dirt, that is valuable, and you can find a way to make money off of it.”

My husband likes to say “Quantity has a quality of it’s own.”

Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers came up with the idea that 10000 hours of doing something makes you an expert.


I have been doing this blog for 15 years now. It’s likely that with this blog and the other writing project I have done I have achieved the magical and mythical 10 thousand hours.

But when I started this blog, it went something like this:

Chris: THere is a new thing. People are writing journals online.

Me: Oh, I’ve seen that before, like on geocities.

Chris: This is bigger than that. There is a separate platform for it. It’s a web log, but they have shortened it to Blog.

Me: What?

Chris: The platform is called blogger. You should check it out.

I was for too busy. I was finishing my long delayed senior year of colllege. I had finals and graduation coming up.

but the idea intrigued me. ANd he showed me the platform.

Me: This is amazing. I could do this after I’m graduated. But only if I could have a cool name. Is Wonderblog available?

It was. And the original Wonderblog was born.

15 years and more than 2 thousand entries have passed. Blogger, Type pad, WordPress and 2 personal domains later, it’s survived a lot of changes.

It went dark because of persecution, but never completely. I have loved it truly and never let it too far from my thoughts.

I love how this is MINE, how I will say whatever I want or need to. And some truly beautiful words have come out of this exercise.

It’s been a beautiful anchor in my life. And I know that it’s impacted the lives of the readers. I know because a few of your write to me every month and tell me so.

Thank you for appreciating my art.

And now I turn this around to you. The small thing, the almost-whim that we choose, and keep choosing, adds up. My choice to do this work of wonder that I do was not unique. So many people make the same sort of choice.


And his again.

For me it is words. And for you it could be something else.

Let it be. Let the efforts and practicing pile up.

They will, if you follow the small desires.

And it is rather satisfying, to have a body of work.

Thank you for sharing it with me.

What is your body of work? Write me back and tell me, if you want. I’ll be glad to celebrate it with you.

So if you write it, they don’t always come

  1. I’ve spent a long time being a blogger. But just because I write it doesn’t mean people will come read it.

con versely, Just because peopl are not reading it doens’t mean i will stop writing.

I write. And then I write some more.

That’s what I do.

I am seeing if there are some tools for garnering an audience.

There is still a lot I don’t know.

bettah work

I spend a lot of time on spiritual activities. They’re spiritual to me, anyway. I am constantly listening to books, lectures, and TED talks about positivity and improving my life.

I’ve taken classes on the phone, and gone to events. I’ve stretched my comfort zone and learned a lot.

This week I’ve been listening to Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. It’s a recording of her lecture series on authenticity, connection and courage.

I can’t stop listening. And I gasp and cry. It’s good.

But I’m in this other class online. I took this class to bolster my sagging sense of self-worth.

I could tell it was sagging because I was very reticent to spend the money on it.


I didn’t think I was worth it.

So. I pulled up my big girl pants and decided to invest in myself.

This class was expensive. So, I was committed to doing the homework.

At first.

And at first the homework was easy. Setting my intentions for the day (what sort of day would I like to have? Would I like to be playful? Would I like to feel secure?), and at the end of the day having a gratitude journal.

Not so bad. And being a committed type, I have done it regularly.

But then it got busy, and I didn’t do the next assignments.

I was still listening to all the recordings. I could do that while driving or doing housework. They were encouraging.

The affirmation tracks were great. I even played them for my daughter after she’d watched some TV that was too scary.

“You are a human being with flaws. You don’t have to be perfect to be ok.”

My daughter asked for them the next night. “Will you play the lady for me?”

Yes. Yes, I would. The lady was very soothing when I felt overwhelmed at work.

And I was starting to feel overwhelmed a lot.

I decided I should plug back into my classes, since I HAD paid for it. Take the time, I am worth it.

So, after spending all weekend with Brene Brown’s fantastic lecture series (very spiritual, personal-developmenty stuff), I sat down to do some journaling on the next module.

It’s not the same. It’s not the same thing at all.

TED talks in my ears is not the same as quality time as separating myself from all the THINGS I should do and taking the time to do a little spiritual work.

In my case, when I stopped and did the exercise, I reminded myself that I am not the victim in my life story. I am the hero of my own story. Rightfully so. And although I may feel like I am assaulted on all sides, I am in fact in one part of my story. My story is evolving continuously, and all the heroes have moments of conflict.

Oh yeah.

So. Not only am I the hero of my life, I really do find benefit in giving myself what I need to feel good about myself.

Which means, dilletanting about with feel-good recordings in my ears is not sufficient.

Doing the work feels a lot better.

Still, I recommend you all check out Brene.

Places everyone

I was feeling sad, and listening to sad music to have a reason to cry while I put my daughter to bed. I thought i should tell her what was going on.

“Veronica, I had a tough day. Someone told me i did things wrong, and that hurts to hear. I have been feeling so bad…I started to think a lie. I’m kind of ashamed to tell you what I was thinking. Is it okay to tell you?”

She nods.

“It made me think I didn’t have a place.”

She gasps, horrified. “Nowhere in the whole UNIVERSE? But you’ll always have a place with me!”

Face in hands. I have to sob for a moment.

She is a bit frightened, she’s never seen me cry like that before. “Come here Veronica.”

I hug her. “You are a wonderful human being. i am so proud to be your mother. Of course I have a place with you.”

All the hits of the 50s the 70s and Today

Note: I wrote this article on Monday after mulling it over for a few weeks. After completing it, I learned that Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace had passed away that same day. Here is his obituary. Thank you for the gift of your book, Mr. Pirsig.

World War 2 had a massive impact on America. It’s been called the war to give war a good name. For us, it certainly worked out nicely. On the negative side, there were a lot of deaths. On the positive side, it gave us a model for how to be organized and mobilized. It gave us an economic boost right when we didn’t even know how to have an economy (aka The Depression.)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of war. This is just me talking about the after-effects.

After the Great Depression, when none of the ideas were working, the war effort gave us a model. The prosperity of the 1950s was a lot about people agreeing to the new way of doing and being.

These new expectations worked! Look how much better off we are!

Until they didn’t. And in the 1960s the fissures became cracks and society started to pull apart. I watched the TV Show Mad Men and marveled at how separate people had become even from themselves.

But in the 1970s the cracks had been mapped. The word “antidisestablishmentarianism” came back into vogue.

As I child walking through the Eureka Library in Humboldt county, I found collected volumes of Doonesbury cartoons and felt how the many well-meaning characters in that comic had their points of view so different from each other, and how they were trying to reach out and make connections.
Real life was not quite as benign as a comic strip.

In the 2000s, I walked into a used bookstore in Pomona. I was exploring my new neighborhood, and had hear how Pomona had once been a brilliant downtown. But industry had moved on, and like the city of Detroit, Pomona was a shell of itself.

I went up to the clerk and asked him for a suggestion. He was delighted to be asked, and after a short conversation, he placed a pink paperback in my hands: “you will like this one.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance published in 1974

It was a book of philosophy. A paperback and a blue-collar title, this was not the way things were done. He wrote a narrative style that was perfect for the 1970 decade of recategorization. He was writing about something very basic: taking a motorcycle trip with your son to try to rebuild a relationship.

And the reason the relationship was broken? The narrator had had a nervous breakdown (as they were quaintly called then) because of an existential crisis.

He had taught science, and then realized that the scientific method was not scientific.

Let’s review. The scientific method goes like this: Take a hypothesis, set up an experiment to test the hypothesis, then observe the result.

Then come up with a new hypothesis and do it again.

The problem is, creating a hypothesis is not a scientific, logical process. Coming up with a hypothesis is gloriously human, non-scientific and illogical.

The system did not allow for glorious humanness. And yet it relied upon it, exploiting it really.
Yes. The system after the war was broken. And in the 1970s, it was undeniable.

I was talking with a co-worker. We had some manual labor to do, and so we made small talk. Until it got bigger. What did you study in college? What did you like best?

He has family ties in Thailand, and revealed that he was an ordained Buddhist monk.
“I really liked studying philosophy.”

Oh, I know just the book for you.

And as I was looking for my beloved copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I realized something.

My 20-something coworker is at another cracking of the system. Right here, right now, it’s happening again. We thought we had it figured out AGAIN. Here’s the thing that works. Don’t mess with it!

Until the fissures in the financial system and the social norms turns to cracks and it split.

Whatever we thought was so awesome in the 90s cracked in the 2000s and we are aware in the 2010s the borders of the new map of broken.

Just as the pieces that used to fit in the 50s, the 2010s are begging reinterpretation.

What is our new glorious humanness?


Everyday Rebirth

It was Easter last Sunday. This is still Easter week, so we can go around celebrating. I know we have enough Easter candy to last at least a month in our house.

Easter is many things, but it’s also about being with family. The holiday traditions that we enjoyed as kids, and that I get to prepare for my own child.

We all went to church. And my child was not at all pleased with how long church was taking. She made all kinds of noise, and when I asked her not to stop, but to whisper, she gave me a narrow eyed glare.

She wanted to do the egg hunt.

Foolish parents that we are, we did not do the egg hunt before church. It was not an egg hunt at all, really. We hid candy, because we didn’t want to have cheap plastics items bouncing around the house. We preferred consumable goods.

It was pretty great to be with my family, even though she was being a little pill. Veronica was excited about finding her candy, and very generous with sharing.

Chris and me like the peanut butter ones. She doesn’t.

It works nicely.

The thing about Easter is supposed to celebrate the birth part of the cycle of life. Eggs and baby bunnies and chickens.

But don’t forget the Christian story, which is more directly about death and rebirth.

The thing about Easter with family is that there is a range of ages. Some people are a lot further along the spectrum of life, so as to be closer to death.

And even though my daughter, as the youngest, was the focus of the holiday. Egg hunt for HER. New dress for HER.

It’s important for us to remember to celebrate the oldest, too. I miss Chris’s grandmother from our celebration. She was a dear woman, and she is not with us.

Her version of rebirth is not resurrection. It is us.

Veronica, who put on the pink bunny ears and complained both that the eggs were hidden too easy and then too hard, is grandmother’s rebirth.

It’s pretty good to be all together, and remember our traditions and who we are. We belong with each other. And that helps me remember that I also belong in the other less familiar parts of my life.