Category: Finding a path

the beginning

Note: I have been advised that this might make more sense to readers with a tiny bit of background. First, hopefully it will be obvious but this is fiction. My real sister was not actually punished by Hera, as far as we know. It may help readers to be reminded of the Greek myth of Echo, the mountain nymph who had her voice taken away by Hera, as a punishment for her long-winded stories (and, more specifically, for not exposing the whereabouts of Zeus), and afterwards could only repeat what she heard others say. Echo fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in a pond and then turned into a flower, and afterwards Echo faded to nothing but a sound. So, without further ado…

 

My sister was a shadow. Her skin no longer felt the brush of wind. She had become the breeze.

I never met her. But my first stories held her transgression. Conveyed her punishment. Her suffering.

Zeus, King of the Gods, sought my cousins. He loved their strong, laughing bodies. Their husky, smooth songs. Their sharp, glittering eyes. He followed them, hungry, into the mountains, into the rivers, blue-green, teeming with life. His sister-wife, Hera, came looking for him – Hera, older than Zeus, tricked into being Queen of the Gods. Trapped into a life she had not asked for, Hera asked my sister for an answer my sister had been forbidden to give.

Where is Zeus? she asked.

I was told that Hera was jealous, vengeful and my sister verbose. Both of these – crimes. My sister, with her long, rambling stories and beautiful voice, keeping secrets from the Queen of the Gods. Hera, in her rage with her brother-husband, the one who had hung her from the stars, stole my sister’s voice. Cursed my sister so that she could no longer share her own words but only repeat those of another. My sister who fell in love with a flower, her beautiful body withered, her bones become rock.

I listened carefully to my mother, to my cousins. I was a quick study. I had my sister’s way with words, her lovely voice. And I knew these things were a danger to me. I knew to speak these words, to use this voice, could lead to losing everything: My very body, the feeling of waves washing over me, the taste of a ripe peach. I learned to give Hera what she demanded: A dutiful echo.

But I was plagued by dreams. I woke up, sweating, in the night. Hera beside me, I cowered. I have done what you wish. I have said nothing but what I have heard from others. Please, spare me. Too afraid to look in her eyes, I looked away. From the Queen of the Gods I heard the sound of ancient tears. I turned and saw deep grooves, canyons, where sorrow had carved a centuries-long path.

With a weary tenderness she spoke. I am blamed, but he had already robbed her when he forbade her to speak the truth. I only made obvious what was already so.
I don’t want to become a shadow.
An echo is already a shadow.
But I can feel the wind. I can taste a peach.
Can you?
I’m afraid, I said. I don’t want to lose everything. They said I would lose everything.
And Artemis the hunter and Athena the wise warrior were there. Aphrodite. We are with you. I slept fitfully.

Sunlight. I am breathing, alone in my room. I whisper the truth. I am awake. It is morning. Nothing happens. Birdsong.

I pull back the covers, my feet touch the ground. I look in the mirror, speaking slowly. I am strong. Dust dances in a beam of light. Nothing happens.

I walk outside, the symphony of limbs, light and dark, warm, cool. She was forbidden to speak the truth. I speak this to the trees, to the sky. I say it clearly. Repeat it. Nothing happens. The branches do not seem to mind.

My legs start to move, before I know where I am going. I am walking, running. My lungs are filling with air, reaching for more air, not enough air. I am afraid I will run out of air before I get where I am going. But there is Theia, the shining light, mother of the sun, the moon, the dawn — my lungs are renewed. And the Muses, dancing with Apollo — more breath. And then I see Alice Walker up ahead with a bag of air. And E.B. White? There is so much air, I am full, to the brim, of all the air I need and I’m running, flying until I reach the cave.

I stand outside, looking into its depths. I gather my strength and with all of the breath left to me I call, sending my words as far into the recesses as they will go: He is here. I hear my sister’s voice calling back: He is here – here – ere. I feel the sun on my arms, a swirl of wind. Birdsong. And my sister, blinking, steps out of the cave.

My sister became a shadow. But I am not. I have hands and a tongue and a still-beating heart. I am afraid. I am alive.

365 days

Adventures with Jenny Goodguts is my fourth blog. My first, Cheapa$$ Jen, begun in 2001, now exists as a few printed sheets in a file in my basement. My second foray, 75 Small Steps for Change, circa 2008, now mysteriously lives on Causes.com — I stopped writing after only 20 small steps, not able to keep up the pace of the one post a day that I had planned. My third attempt, Jenaissance, begun in November 2014, lasted for 2.5 years with periods of intense activity and months of silence. The Jenaissance blog had no organizing principle, other than the survival of my soul — it was a matter of writing something somewhere for someone. Jenaissance still lives on the Internet, but no new posts have been added since the beginning of Jenny G. And here we are, one year into blog number four.

It is strange to think that it has only been a year. 365 days. I think back over the year, what has happened, what has been accomplished, what is different. We have a new sofa. I meditate now, sometimes. I’ve written just about 80,000 words of what was originally planned as an 80,000-word novel. And I think, sometimes, that I’ve learned how to hear my own voice.

Please remember, when we first met Jenny Goodguts, I (Jennifer, an aspiring super-ish hero) had been struggling for some months with a debilitating addiction to farm-building games on the iPad. I had been told that my guts were hosting no flora save for a vast colony of E. coli. My body was in pain from the repetitive strain of the iPad. Donald Trump had recently concluded his first hundred days as President of our once illustrious nation. I was watching too much news. I was scared, I felt lost, and I was way down depressed.

For the sake of clarification, as this has never been made clear, Jenny Goodguts is not the authoress of this blog. I, Jennifer, am the author. Jenny Goodguts is the super hero — the alter ego who lives in my imagination. She’s the one who knows what to do, who is full of plans and ideas for how I should act — for good. If I’m not taking my vitamins, she helps me make a checklist. If meditation would be good for me, she helps me make a checklist (It turns out Jenny is a big fan of the checklist.) Jenny is that voice in my head that whispers that there’s always something I can do to make things better. Who reminds me that I have the strength to do what needs to be done. Who helps me make a plan when the chips are down.

Jenny is the one who told me to tape the lucky quarter from the Trader Joe’s parking lot onto my kitchen wall and reminded me that I would lose 25 days of good luck if I played that damn game one single time. And she was right. I stopped playing the game. I ate some sauerkraut. And life changed.

I once wrote that Jenny Goodguts saved my life. Saved was/is too strong a word. I wrote that to get your attention I guess. Now I feel like it sounds a bit overly dramatic. I would have gone on living, and things would have happened, good and bad. But starting this blog I feel has changed the trajectory of my life. Why do I say that? What do I mean?

What started out as an idea of sharing games, quests, adventures has, yet again, turned into an outlet for me to say whatever I want about whatever I want to whoever is reading. Except.

Except with this blog I figured out how to send each post as an email, automatically. There’s no choice, no planning involved. I write. I hit publish. My words magically appear in inboxes around the world.

And people subscribed. Not a lot of people. Some people I thought would subscribe, just to be nice, did not. And other people, who I would not have expected to subscribe, did. You did.

And not only did you subscribe, but you read and you kept reading and you said things like: that post really spoke to me or that post helped me or even have you thought about stand-up comedy?. One note, seven words, from one person on one day. It makes a difference.

There have been artists throughout history who have been so certain, so clear in their vision, that against all odds, against all criticism, they have gone on to make their thing and we celebrate them today. I’m not that type though. I am brave. I have done things, and tried things, that some others would not have done or tried. But I needed you. To read, to react, to nudge, to support, to appreciate, to notice. And your eight words here, your comment there, were enough. I felt brave enough to try new things. I felt safe enough to be real, to not hide behind cutesy attitudes and tired figures of speech.

And here I am on the other side. With this year behind me and however many more to come. My voice feels clearer to me and more authentic and I look back on the words I’ve written here — to you — and I feel like I’ve made something that I want to make. I’ve said something that I want to say. I’ve found something that I wanted to find.

***

I think it is correct to say that when I started this blog I imagined that I had it in me to write. I thought, I have had some interesting experiences, or more that I have had an unusual constellation of experiences. And I also thought that I had the ability to share the perspective derived from those experiences through writing. And that doing so would bring me some pleasure.

If I’m being totally, completely honest, I also thought that the world was/is full of huge daunting problems and that maybe I could do something, some small thing, to change minds, or to propose solutions, or to make personal change fun. I think I thought I was going to make games and challenges that in their way, small or large, would help people “do the right thing”. Help us all be a little more super.

Did I want my writing to save the world? I think I could only give myself permission to write if there was some small chance that it might. I felt that my obligation was to exchange my life energy to help stop the damage, or to compensate for my share of damage, my accumulated share going back generations, that was the only arithmetic that seemed defensible. If I get to be alive, here, in these circumstances, there is a debt to be paid.  I think that was the deep down truth.

After 365 days, I have a different view.

After 365 days, today, I will sit down with my friend, Jenny Goodguts, who set me on a path that changed my life. And I will tell her this:

My dear, beloved, Jenny Goodguts, thank you for always being there, for your dedication, your persistence, your frightening ability to organize, your compulsive lists. Thank you for not giving up and for helping me when I needed you. That idea, about taping the lucky quarter to the kitchen wall, was invaluable to me and it turned out to be the oar I needed to get back to shore.

But Jenny, I’m not so sure anymore about this theme song business, all this aspiring, or the obligation of my one life to make everything right.

You, Jenny, have so many ideas about how to fix things, ideas about what is right or wrong, good or bad. Ideas about how the world could be different. But an alternative world, just like you Jenny Goodguts, is not real. And I am determined – determined – to love this real world. And its real people, every single one a wabi-sabi bowl, broken, chipped, glued together. Every single one.

Do you know what I’d like to do Jenny? I’d like to be awake in this real world, be myself, and I’d like to tell some stories. I think we could all use some new stories and I think I have some inside me. But, to do that, it turns out I don’t need to be a superhero. And it turns out I don’t think what people need is fixing. My own Jenny, I love you, but I’m not on the path to super-ish anymore.

And Jenny, who is not real of course, will scrunch up her face and look at me oddly. She’ll blink a few times and kind of curve her eyebrows like she’s really disappointed in me. I’ll look down because I’m a little embarrassed, but I won’t change my mind. After a minute, she’ll say back to me:

Jennifer (she won’t say darling Jennifer, because she’s a superhero), you are real. And, try as I might, you still have not developed the rigid discipline, the focus at all costs, the regular exercise habit needed to save the world. I know sometimes you feel confused. Sometimes you feel — inadequate.

She’ll pause for a minute, considering something, then continue: You know, I have a lot of systems. A lot of information. You have a lot of empathy, compassion. Maybe it’s not inadequacy, maybe its love that allows you to show people what’s behind the curtain, just in case it helps. Just in case that’s what they needed.

She’ll pause again, and she’ll say, a bit more quietly this time: Maybe what people need most isn’t another list. I guess… (and then she’ll start to slightly nod her head, up and down) you should keep being… real. (Now she looks me straight in the eye) And try not to be scared. To be honest, I’m a little tired myself always devising these checklists and spreadsheets. If you’re sure about this stories thing, maybe it is time that I put away my mask and my cape and learn to live with some clutter and eat chocolate soufflé and sit outside, just my own two arms, my own two legs, my face, sit them outside feeling the wind and not try to fix anything for a little while. Just be.

Maybe, Jennifer, eventually, we can both learn to sing that lovesong to the world.

***

There is still work to be done. There are good guys to help, banks to stop banking with, parabens to outwit. I’ve been around for what is scootching closer and closer to half a century and I am darned sure that even if Jenny takes a break she isn’t going to let me forget about all of this. I can’t unlearn and I don’t guess I would want to.

But on the one year anniversary of the launch of this blog I am announcing, I am proclaiming, that while Jenny Goodguts might have had some great checklists to share, while she could put together a kick-ass resource list, while she really knew how to organize activities, she’s on a sabbatical of undetermined length.

I don’t feel like being super, I feel like being real. And I feel brave enough to be real thanks to you.

On Resolutions

For Christmas, my husband bought me a magenta-ish Patagonia hooded sweatshirt (aka, a hoody). I unwrapped it around 8 am on December 25, directly removed it from it’s plastic bag, and put it on. At the time of the ham incident (see below), I had removed the sweatshirt to sleep and, briefly, for three other occasions. I did not wear it to Christmas Dinner. I did not wear it for one afternoon when some relatives came to visit. I did not wear it for about an hour on New Years Eve (but then I got a little bit chilly so I put it on). As of January 5th, I had worn it for all but about eight waking hours over the course of 12 days. For the record, I changed shirts daily, or nearly that, in case you are wondering.

Now, about the ham. In my family, it was/is traditional on New Year’s Day to eat ham and black-eyed peas (for luck) and greens (for money). Not sure about the meaning of the ham. I think our tradition was always turnip greens (the kind that comes frozen in a rectangular solid) when I was living with my parents though I think, technically, that consuming any kind of greens on January 1st ensures a steady flow of money raining down from heaven over the course of the year. Feeling compelled to instill a bit of tradition in my offspring (while quite aware that they would not approve of the menu), on the 2nd of January I went to the store and bought a ham (and black-eyes and collards). (We were on the road on the 1st and I’m hoping there is not some other tradition the says if you eat greens and peas the day AFTER the first you will have terrible luck and lose everything — I’ll keep you posted). Who knew that you can get a whole ten-pound ham — organic — for $19 on the day after New Year’s. I’m used to paying $10 for a pound of ground beef so ten pounds of almost all meat for $19 seems pretty crazy protein to price ratio.

We got the ham. It is the spiralized kind. We baked it. We ate it on Tuesday night. And Wednesday night. I ate it for lunch on Wednesday. School for the kids was cancelled on the 4th because of “weather conditions” (not exactly sure why but they were home nonetheless) so I think I ate whatever they didn’t eat but much of the day goes by in a snow day haze so I could have mostly missed lunch.

So there I was, Friday January 5th, wearing my hoody and standing in the kitchen. It’s lunchtime and I see the huge ham. There are about 8 pounds remaining. I will freeze it and use it to make red beans and rice, I tell myself. My husband will like that. It is healthy. Inexpensive. Delicious. Part of my heritage. Good plan. But in the meantime, I will eat some ham for lunch. So I unwrap it, setting the two sheets of glaze-splattered foil on the counter, pulling off part of a slice and shoving it into my mouth. Not EXACTLY like an animal, I did use my hands and didn’t just put my face directly on the ham, but possibly like a monkey I guess. Like an ape. Except that apes don’t eat ham and if you’ve seen the gorilla at the zoo regurgitate food, it wasn’t like that. I put it in, quickly, chewed, sort of, and then ripped off another slice.

At some point during this luncheon, I recognized that I’m wearing my sweatshirt (certain members of my household may or may not have mentioned that the sweatshirt may have become a sort of uniform, and maybe they mentioned this in a way that suggested such a uniform might not be considered a positive development). I’m wearing my sweatshirt for the 12th day in a row and standing in my kitchen ripping slices off a spiral ham and shoving them in my mouth as my form of lunch and I start giggling. People would think there is something wrong with me. This is the part of the movie where I’m deep down in a funk, depressed, not quite right. I should cut off some slices, put them on a plate, sit at a table. There should be a salad, or some veggies, a glass of water. Maybe even another person. I should go to a cafe, in my stylish clothing, with my hair and makeup done. My friends would laugh at some story about what we did over the holidays, I would listen intently, then I would go back to my desk to finish up an important memo about something that was going to make the world just a little bit better, or at least make my boss happy, and then I would get my paycheck.

Now, fast forward to today, January 12th, a week later. I have had some real serious talks with myself since the ham incident. Here’s the thing: I’m not in a funk. This is not the part in the movie where I make an appointment to get a haircut (I did make an appointment to get a haircut though), start going to the gym (we’ll talk about that another day but it is definitely time that I start at least stretching regularly. Ok, we’ll talk about it now. I think i’ve been thinking i’m super sneaky and I’m going to be that person who makes it through life without exercising regularly. And the thing is — I can be! I’ll just make it through life a little bit more quickly, and less comfortably, than i would otherwise. So that suddenly doesn’t feel like such a sneaky, or good, plan.) But back to the not funk.

My mom, over the holidays, suggested a couple of ideas for things that I might be really good at doing professionally. She meant well. She loves me. She has a lot of confidence in me. She said these things in front of other people which made me feel embarrassed. Like what I am and what I’m trying to do isn’t enough. As if selling safer cosmetics and blogging when I feel like it isn’t my destiny.

Here’s what I’m saying back to her, to you, to myself. THIS is what I’m doing. I’m eating ham, with my fingers, wearing a sweatshirt. The sweatshirt is soft, it is clean, it keeps me warm. I don’t need five sweatshirts. This one is great. It fits, is rip-free, is a beautiful color. It serves my needs. I’m eating a little bit of ham for lunch. I don’t need to spend a ton of time eating lunch some days. Sometimes a little ham is enough and then I can get back to all of the things I’m working on: writing, reading, editing, seeing friends, selling cosmetics.

I think I’ve been feeling like I don’t have a full-time job because I can’t have a full-time job. I think that’s what I’ve been telling people. We have no family nearby that can help with kids, my husband travels for long periods of time, we’ve both worked full-time before and it felt unsustainable. But here’s the truth: I don’t want to work full-time in an office. I don’t want to spend any more of my life that way. I have worked as a receptionist, as a data-entry intern, in accounts payable for Budweiser, in a greenhouse, as a waitress, as a nanny, cleaning hotel rooms, at two magazines doing research and writing, planning scientific expeditions to Africa, organizing teams to negotiate at UN meetings, on organizational design and strategy for a large 30-country conservation NGO.

Now I am searching. I am living a human life, awake. It is not always comfortable. It is not always clear. I do not have defined deliverables and I don’t have anyone holding me accountable other than myself (and maybe an accountability partner or two but I COULD blow them off without serious consequence). My ego fights me. Financially it is not the easiest path, for now. And THIS is what I choose to be doing. Could I improve in terms of how to structure my days? I feel confident saying yes, I could. Might I develop some deliverables for myself? Well, maybe. Eventually, for sure. Right now I am searching. I am giving myself time to look around. To wonder. To feel the feelings in my body. That little pain that pops up around my heart sometimes — is that muscular, or from my soul?

So I just wanted you to know that. I’m not in a funk. When I look at myself in the mirror, while there are certainly lines that I’m not excited about and spots that I wish weren’t there and also consider a professional liability, when I see my red sweatshirt I feel happiness. When I look at my eyes I recognize myself.

In 2017, I started this blog, started writing three novels (and one has just passed the 25,000 word mark and is going strong), wrote two essays I think are very good but I need to finish, started another 15 or so essays that have some potential, I started taking songwriting lessons and shared one song on this blog, I started meditating, started playing the piano regularly, planted a butterfly garden, took a trip to the ocean with my kids, I started a Beautycounter business, found a bunch of four-leaf clovers in a biography of Charles Dickens, received notes of encouragement from unexpected sources, I learned that my gut flora is depauperate and took steps to address matters, learned I CAN eat cultured foods, I broke a debilitating addiction to iPad games, I saw a democrat elected to an Alabama senate seat, I spent more time with some of my favorite authors (E.B., Cervantes, Austen), I wrote a couple of paid articles, edited some cool stuff, got paid to learn about some things I’m interested in. I spent time with some friends. I listened to them. They listened to me. I cooked and ate a lot of healthy food. I cleaned some toilets. I stressed about money. I tried to stop stressing and be thankful. I will try harder this year.

As far as resolutions go, here is what I’m thinking:

I will make more choices instead of letting things go undecided for so long. My husband found some cotton plants while he was in Alabama, he picked some cotton, he was very interested. I put the cotton, stems, and seeds in a ziplock bag. Maggie brought it to school to show her class. Then it sat in the bag, in my dining room, for two weeks. I looked at it every day. What will I do with that cotton? I composted it yesterday. Decision made. (There are a lot more to go.)

I will acknowledge the choices I am making. I won’t sink into feeling done-to.

I will try to meditate every day. This is really good for me. I like the Headspace app and you can start with 3 minutes a day. You can do it.

There is more to share about Swedish Death Cleaning and Napolean Hill and You are a Badass, but I have to post this before 11 am which means I have 8 minutes to reread.

P.S. I’m going to start saying the New Year’s ham is for persistence. Luck and money are very well and good, but I want to persevere.

Happy New Year!

On glow sticks, and getting out of a funk

Hello my friends!

I’ve missed you : )

So, you might be wondering (or not), what’s up? Why no new posts in the last three weeks? How is the novel? Any chance I’ve reverted to certain addictive behaviors over the past few weeks? Am I blaming Halloween for any minor life or habit setbacks? How’s Basic Training? Still meditating? Still eating fermented foods? Have I been wearing the same shirt for a week? Do I have a not unwarranted but probably disproportionate rage against glow sticks? How is my cosmetics business?

You know, it’s funny you asked!

Here are the updates, in brief:

Novel: I am up to 17,090 words on the novel. To get to 50,000 by November 30th (the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo goal), I am about 7,000 words behind where I should be. But if I write an average of 2,194 words each day until the 30th, I’ll get there. My biggest day so far has been 4,390 but we have to keep in mind that I will have family in town, Thanksgiving to host, children out of school, Black Friday and Cyber Monday (shudder), birthday parties to attend (etc, etc). So maybe I’ll just get to 40,000. I’m pretty happy about that. Right now the main character is a mother of two who lives in Alexandria and takes issue with the status quo (I don’t know how I think of these things either!). Maybe I will include a bit of the text on the blog some day. It is fun and challenging and sometimes it makes my heart feel like it is hurting but I think that is just muscular inflammation from sitting in one position for too long at a time. It takes a lot of emotional energy to think about what you really mean, what really motivates someone. I think I like writing novels. But I’m not totally sure what is going to happen yet. We build to that. So far though, so good. There are some parts I love, that I read and feel like I don’t know who exactly wrote them. That’s fun.

Confession: I played THE GAME. About five days ago I played the cursed iPad game. The one I was addicted to that I used to play before starting the blog. I can’t remember exactly what happened. But i did it. And then i kept doing it. For hours. Hours. And the next day, maybe for just one or two hours. And then I knew I would have to tell you about it. So yesterday I deleted the game (ok, the two games) from the iPad forever. I had not touched the games since starting the blog last spring, a huge achievement. More about this below.

Coffee: In the past two weeks I have unintentionally switched from being a tea-drinker who dabbles in an occasional weekend coffee to a full-blown coffee addict. I did not have coffee on Tuesday and I woke up on Wednesday morning in excruciating pain that could only be taken away by sweet, sweet caffeine. So this will have to be addressed but for now I’m a coffee drinker. Again, don’t know what happened. I just felt like being reckless so I started drinking a big mug of coffee every morning and – bam. I think i thought I was being kind of naughty because I know I’m super sensitive to caffeine. Well, what’s done is done. I will have to figure a way out of this.

Halloween: Used to be my favorite custom/tradition. Now I kind of hate it (for so many reasons, many of which are discussed in my upcoming novel). Also, I cannot resist a Kit Kat. So I get hooked on Kit Kats and then I become a coffee addict and play farming games until my arms hurt. I’m weak I guess. But I fight this battle every year and it is never pretty. The Kit Kats are gone now (and not in the trash) so it will be back to smoothies soon. Oh, I should mention that I haven’t had a smoothie all week. Or any fermented food. Nor have I played the piano, meditated, spent time outside, danced. I have done a lot of singing in the past two days. And I’ve spent time with two friends, which was probably the only antidote I needed.

Glow sticks: Can we talk about glow sticks, just for a minute. Please, if you care about me, please vow to yourself – right now – that you will never buy another glow product again. Please, just do it. Or rather, don’t do it. Glow sticks are one great example of something that it is possible to make. Yes, human beings, ingenious creators, have figured out how to make a little plastic stick glow in the dark for a few hours before it becomes trash. Yay! Kids love these things for at least 5 minutes before they throw them on the ground and forget about them forever and then they are just garbage. YET, I do not rail against the glow stick because they are just dumb trash. I rail against them because the chemical inside a glow stick that makes the glow is a phthalate, in most cases dibutyl phthalate, and these little chemicals are pretty horrid for human beings. True, most children do not eat glow sticks. But when you throw them away, they don’t magically disappear! They go SOMEWHERE. And that somewhere is the water we drink. Pthalates are linked to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. People, it just isn’t worth it. Twenty seconds of sheer glee (for a kid who, most likely, is way overstimulated already whether it is Halloween or not) versus a population exposed to chemicals that we know are making us all sicker. If I see you buying glow sticks (I’m so sorry, I’m working on this, truly, but) I will judge you. Maybe you’re judging me right now. I know, all this judging is the worst, maybe I should just work on being at peace with the glow stick. I’m just being honest. It will make me feel sad. So keep that in mind.

Moving on…

Roadrage: PEOPLE — we are all in agreement that watching a show on your phone while you are driving a moving car is not an ok thing, right????? I was so happy this morning, singing a song after dropping my kids off. Driving back home. And this lady was driving very erratically and I needed to get over so I looked at her to see if she saw me signaling and she was watching a show on her phone — not at a stoplight (I do not condone this either) — she was driving on a road that has a 45 mph speed limit. She was driving and watching a show!?! I got upset. I tried to feel lighthearted again and sing my song, but it just wasn’t in me. Then some other people drove like selfish jerks (I, meanwhile, drove perfectly, faultlessly). Then I saw a friend and felt much better.

Cosmetics: My Beautycounter business is going pretty well, thanks for asking. If you are curious about the line that I have chosen to represent, I encourage you to take a look at my Beautycounter page. I like that they are trying to change the industry and to make products for people that don’t contain known harmful ingredients. I have a thing about businesses that know – full-well – that certain ingredients/behaviors/substances are seriously damaging to the population as a whole and they just don’t give a crap. Please see my note below about the Sacklers.

The Sacklers: I have been very upset this week. I do believe the iPad game relapse was due to an article I read in The New Yorker about the Sackler family. These guys are well known as generous philanthropists who give tons of money to art museums all over the world (think the Met, Louvre, Smithsonian) and have their names on all this stuff and are knighted (etc), but their names are strangely absent from the webpage of the pharmaceutical company they privately own, a little company called Purdue Pharma that developed OxyContin and, it turns out, knew pretty well from the start that it was extremely addictive but had a very targeted campaign to convince doctors across America that it was safe to prescribe, even though the doctors had very legitimate hesitations. This drug is the primary driver of America’s opiod crisis and the family now has $13 billion dollars (that number growing every day, along with the number of Americans dying from overdoses, the number of babies born addicts, the number of families destroyed, etc). And now they are expanding to foreign markets (oh, also there’s a new pill for kids over 11) — even with all that is known. SO, read the article. You are probably not as soft as me so you won’t fall into a virtual agrarian, Kit Kat fueled, despair. It’s important stuff.

What Next? Well, by the very fact that I am writing this post you can rest assured that I am now on an upward, rather than downward, trajectory. There are many possible explanations for why we get into “funks.” Could be related to the time of year, could be you get a huge credit card bill, could be how you are eating, or not eating, could be that you are lonely and feel isolated, could be that you are reading too much news, or not reading or thinking or doing enough to remember all that you do have, could be you are super tired, could be someone you know is sick, could be you are sick.

I also don’t know what it is that gets you out of a funk. Could be talking to a friend. Or just getting to the end of the candy and making a decision not to get more. Or making a decision to help someone else. I think usually (always?) there is a point where you make a decision and then you follow through with that decision. Maybe you have help or maybe you do it on your own. Well, once again I’ve made a decision to crawl out and, luckily, this funk was short lived. (sigh of relief.)

Children’s literature: My kids have been discussing a book they are enthralled with, one I have never read. Apparently the main character is a cat who poops out cupcakes. Look, there may be a great lesson in this book. It might be Shakespeare, or Beatrix Potter, say. I cannot help but wonder. Kids used to be told stories that helped them understand their place in the universe. To learn values. To learn how humans behave, how we interact with other people, creatures, the Earth. Now people make money figuring out how to make characters that kids will think are funny. Give the four-year-olds what the four-year-olds want! I like that we value childhood more now than in, say, Victorian times. I love to laugh with my kids. I’m all about creativity and imagination. But I guess I feel like there is maybe a middle ground that we’ve missed. A cupcake-pooping cat? I guess I’m old fashioned but it feels like somewhere we went a bit off the rails.

Messages from Everywhere 
light up our backyard.
A bird that flew five thousand miles
is trilling six bright notes.
This bird flew over mountains and valleys
and tiny dolls and pencils
of children I will never see.
Because this bird is singing to me,
I belong to the wide wind,
the people far away who share
the air and the clouds.
Together we are looking up
into all we do not own
and we are listening.

Naomi Shihab Nye

One thing that helps me get out of a funk is this blog. So thanks very much for being here.

Now back to that novel…

How to make any decision

I’m at loose ends. Again. Or still—I can’t tell if it comes and goes or is more of a perpetual state.

This week I thought about applying for a job. Or rather, I met with someone who had an open full-time position for which I am highly qualified. I spoke with her about the responsibilities, the possibilities, the vision. What were they hoping to accomplish? How?

I didn’t know what to do. The job would have me working with a bunch of smart people who care about issues I care about. Working to shift global systems. For instance, if one of the most important ways humanity can address climate change is to make sure that no more primary forests are cut down, this position would work with governments in developed and developing countries, major businesses (like huge oil companies), other NGOs, movie stars, world renowned academics, politicians (you get the picture), to figure out how can this happen? And then work with all the partners to get it to happen (and then throw a major party if it ever did happen).

I drove home. What am I going to do? I think keeping primary forests standing is super important. I love forests. They smell GREAT. I am scared about climate change. I am not a fan of multiple, massive hurricanes, I (in theory though I have never been scuba diving) love coral. I would rather there continue to be massive glaciers and ice sheets than the converse.

This is an issue I care about. This is a job I can do. People have to go to war sometimes and it isn’t like they want to go, but they have to because the times call for it.

Wait, what?

I said, people have to go to war sometimes….

You can’t just fancy about, doing things that bring you joy. Sometimes you have to go sit in work clothes, spend hours, years, in very cold meeting rooms, sending lots of important emails, flying in airplanes to more meetings, writing reports, playing politics. Sometimes you have to do these things to make change. To save the world.

So, like I said, I drove home. How am I going to make this decision? I care about the world. I want to help. I sat down at the piano. I played some very elementary pieces, slowly, quietly. I felt the keys with my fingers. I heard two notes, or three notes, blending. My feet gently kept the rhythm.

I turned on some show tunes (Barbra Streisand “On a Clear Day” to be precise). I belted out some Barbra—about four songs worth. I haven’t done that in about six months. I pretended I was on stage performing.

I meditated. A tool I did not have in my toolbox before beginning Basic Training. I did a fifteen-minute Deepak Chopra guided meditation on intention that I found on YouTube. At the end he said: I place my intention in the vast ocean of possibility and allow the universe to work through me. He said it three times, so I remembered it, and wrote it down afterwards.

And I knew this job was not for me.

I have been thinking about my 11th grade history teacher. She subscribes to this blog, which is both an honor and a source of some anxiety. What will she think? Will she approve? Since you probably don’t know my father’s middle name, I will go ahead and let you in on the secret that she is the answer to the frequently asked security question: Name of your favorite teacher. Though I can never remember whether I put in just the last name or the full name—I try to be consistent with capitalization but I’m never totally sure.

I have been thinking about her because I have been thinking about impact. About one lifetime and choices we make. About the scale of what we try to do.

I was brushing my teeth earlier this week and I was thinking about wanting to say thank you. I don’t know if she changed my life. I do know this: She taught me how to really work (academically, that is). She expected me to work. If this is easy, then keep working until you find what is not easy. I think, of all the teachers I was blessed to have, she taught me to examine, to think, to organize thought (she and Chauncey Loomis). She was the best writing teacher I ever had. And she loved me.

She was tough. And she loved me.

One teacher in one school in one town in one country teaching one subject. Thirty years later I am brushing my teeth and sending a silent thank you to the universe for her effort, her attention, her devotion, her love. For the difference she made in one life. For the love that she poured into one small, open heart.

She did not sit around with heads of state talking about forests. She came and watched me sing Barbra Streisand in the Samford University auditorium when I competed in the Junior Miss Pageant. She laughed when we gave her a box of Depends Undergarments as a 40th birthday present. She reads my blog.

I am glad that there are people who ask big questions and who sit in meeting rooms together trying to figure out how to move the big levers to take care of our beautiful world. I send prayers out to the universe for their success. I edit their (copious) documents and reports sometimes. It is a small thing, but it is a thing.

I will keep writing. And singing. And editing. And selling cosmetics. I will plant flowers for my butterflies and birds. I will post smoothie recipes on my blog. I will make up games and missions for myself and my friends.

And I will gently and carefully put my intention in the vast ocean of possibility and allow the universe to work through me.

I may be right, I may be crazy

Me: They might not like it.
Me: If they don’t like it, they can unsubscribe.

Me: But I personally know every subscriber, maybe they don’t want to hurt my feelings.
Me: People keep reading it. They could just let it go to their inboxes and never open the message. But they don’t.

Me: Maybe they are worried about me and they read to make sure I am okay. I don’t want to write things that will make people feel down.
Me: But you also don’t want to write things that are not real, and sometimes real is down. Or at least real is not always falsely positive and upbeat.

Me: Isn’t it a little self centered to write so much about myself? My own thoughts, my own experience, how I feel about every little thing?
Me: Maybe being real can help people feel less alone. So much of what you see on TV, online, in magazines doesn’t seem like your life at all, or doesn’t reflect what really matters to you. Writing what is real for you has helped you. Maybe it helps other people too.

Me: So is that the plan then, publish an online diary?
Me: Ideally no, that wasn’t the plan. And it isn’t the plan. But you are being transparent. You had an idea, you started something, it is evolving and that takes time. And you are keeping people (who love you and are supportive of you) informed and involved as you learn and develop.

Me: I’m afraid that if I just keep writing whatever pops into my head once a week that…
Me: That…?

Me: You know I’m a people pleaser.
Me: Yes.

Me: I’m not sure that blogging is the right outlet for me. When I read my own posts on my phone I wish I were sitting down in a comfy chair with the words printed out, instead of rushing to read it quickly on a tiny screen.
Me: You changed the subject.

Me: I don’t know what I’m afraid of. Can we move on?
Me: You like to blog. You are a people pleaser. You love these people and you want to do something that is helpful, is honest, is enjoyable on both sides, doesn’t make anyone feel upset, keeps everyone happy. All you can do is be real. And try to be healthy. And share what you are learning. You can’t keep everyone happy. And if you try to you won’t be able to write what is inside you.

Me: Maybe it is arrogant to think it matters—what is inside you.
Me (singing softly):
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

Me (even softer):
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine (a little choked up).
That was a low blow.
Me: What else are you going to do? Play iPad games, eat Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and binge-read the news?

Me: I could get a job cleaning up a river. Someone could tell me to do something and I could do it. I could do a good job. They would tell me I was doing a good job. Sometimes.
Me: And your music?

Me: I could do that sometime. Some other time.
Me: And your light?

Me: I care about rivers.
Me: And your light?

Me:
Me: Your little light?

Me: Maybe I can’t do it.
Me: Maybe you can.

Me (in such a quiet whisper, maybe no one will hear):
i hope i can

Smalltalk

I’m looking out the upstairs window. Across the street is the white-haired man who walks past my house every day, usually more than once, with his small, curly-haired grey dog. A little thing, maybe 8 pounds of dog in all. I have been trying to smile at this man for months but he won’t look at me. I can’t get him to look at me so that I can smile at him so I have assumed there’s something he’s inferred about me or my life choices from something about the exterior of my house (the toys littered across the lawn or disrepaired shutters, perhaps?) that puts me into some group of people he does not approve of. I have some vegetables (not very successfully) growing in a raised bed close to the street, so maybe he thinks I’m a dirty hippie.

This morning I see him out of my window with his little dog. At first I think about it being a good plan to get a little dog if you are getting older — we are thinking about getting a big dog and I recognize that it takes much less man (or woman) power to manage 8 pounds of dog versus 80.

Then I see my neighbor from across the street. She’s outside of her house with her dog, a yellow lab named Rosie. My neighbor is smiling, as she almost always does, and approaching the gentleman. And I see him stop, his dog approaching the lab, and the white-haired man leans towards Rosie and puts his hand on the top of her head. She’s wagging ferociously and looking up at him. He puts his hand under her chin, scratches. He’s looking straight at the dog’s face and rubbing, scratching, petting. My neighbor is smiling and I see her mouth moving and moving and he keeps petting the dog, contentedly.

He pauses and seems to listen to my neighbor. I don’t see his mouth move but he stands there. And then Rosie moves towards him again and they are back where they started, petting, wagging, scratching and my neighbor smiling and talking all the while.

And then I start to feel that I am just like this man. That I am looking at myself, as I feel underneath my skin, underneath my face and my clothes and deep inside even under my bones, most of the time.

There is a block party at the end of my street once each month, weather permitting. Neighbors come with booze and snacks and popsicles and kids ride their bikes dangerously close to 70-year-old women (my son in particular) and they always laugh it off but I am pretty sure one day I am going to turn around to see a sprawling neighbor knocked to the ground by one of the many 2-yr-olds zooming precariously on their scooters.

My kids love this party so we amble (or ride) down to the circle one Friday each month during the sociable and non-freezing months. People are standing around. Kids are shouting. People’s faces smile at each other and they are divided into little two-, three-, and foursomes laughing or deep in discussion, though for the most part we all steer well away from politics unless it is very clear on which end of the spectrum your conversation partner is encamped.

We have lived in this neighborhood for about three years. Maybe been to these parties about 12 times. Terror may be too strong a word, but each time I’m approaching the gathered throng I’m generating as many options as possible of what I can do once I get there. Head to the drink table, sort out my children in some way, put a bag somewhere — I need a plan for what to do until I find someone to talk to.

And then comes the hard part. I’m standing next to someone and they say something and I have to say things back, preferably pleasant or interesting things. And when the sound starts to die down and it looks like the line of conversation is about to finish, I panic. What next? How does this either keep going or how does it stop — I don’t know. There sometimes seems to be a very organic pattern to all of this. Other times it is like a ride at an amusement park, jolty and bumpy, sometimes sailing downhill and other times, on the way up to the next downhill, you feel a bit sick to your stomach and it’s jolting you around and you wonder if the ride is well constructed or if it is all about to tumble to the ground and you wonder what that would be like, hope you don’t find out, and then the other person starts to tell you a story about when she had surgery and couldn’t move for 6 weeks and that’s how she got a new dog, and you are safe for a while.

Usually, after an event such as this, I come home and think seriously about taking a vow of silence. I never feel good about myself or about the random conversation I was able to make, or rather the words that I heard come from my own mouth, mostly unbidden.

True story: At the end of this school year, I was responsible for organizing the teacher gift for my son’s class at school and also helped him make a card for each of his teachers. In the card, he had dictated some lovely things about his teachers and I had written them down for him so the words were his own. After the gifts and cards had been bestowed, his two teachers approached me during a farewell celebration and thanked me for the thoughtful gifts. One teacher remarked that she had particularly enjoyed my son’s remark “I hope you don’t get burned by lava” (they had been studying volcanoes, so this was relatively appropriate).

So, just for emphasis, let me restate: teachers approach me, smiling, say thank you for something nice, we liked the sweet cards. I panic. What do I say to these people? These nice ladies who have cared for my son all year?

I wanted the cards and the gifts to do the talking for me, truth be told. I put a lot of time into thinking about what would have meaning for the teachers, what would show that we appreciated and loved them. But now there are people, live people here next to me saying words through their faces and looking at me and I’m supposed to say words back.

“You should have heard the gruesome things he said that DIDN’T make the card.” Smile. (backtracking) “Not that gruesome, something about the ocean, but they, I’m so glad, you are teachers and you, my son. Thank you.” And they smile back, but what? what? How about “I’m so glad you liked them.” Something, you know, traditional like that.

I feel like a good 70% of the time when confronted by the need to make conversation with someone I just take a group of words from some panicked region of my brain and throw them all together and I’m hearing it come out of my mouth and I don’t even know what it means. I know that I can think clearly, I can write, I have vocabulary, and empathy, and I feel warmth for people. And one-on-one sitting with a friend, I’m usually pretty good with words. With hearing and responding in a caring and thoughtful way.

There was a block party last night. I went late and mostly listened. I asked some questions about gardening and the amount of water large trees need in the summer heat. It makes me feel lonely though, I wished I could feel comfortable, I wished I didn’t feel like I’m always thinking about different things from everybody else, or maybe I wished I had more people, or more time to spend with the people, in my life who wanted to talk about the things I’m thinking about.

So this morning I see the white-haired man with the little gray dog. I see his joy of connecting with Rosie – his pleasure in the wag of her tail. He doesn’t look at my neighbor’s face, though I do, twice, see his mouth move in response to something she has said, eyes still down. He says so little, but he doesn’t feel so little. He’s just not comfortable with small talk. And he doesn’t force himself to be. Maybe he’s just lived long enough to let himself be who he is.

Remembering to breathe

Hungry this afternoon and browsing the refrigerator for options, I found a leftover Independence Day hamburger, some whipped cream (should I?), and a jar of pickles. And what have we here in the opaque silicone pot?  Half of a raw onion. Resigned to a few minutes of labor in exchange for sustenance, I took out a carton of eggs and a frying pan. I rinsed one day’s collected drawer dust out of the pan (longish story) and cracked an egg directly in. Remembering the pan was cold, and unlubricated, and that I was planning to scramble the eggs, I then poured the raw egg from pan into a bowl, rinsed, then dried, the pan again. Cracked two more eggs into the bowl, melted an unmeasured chunk of butter in the pan. Poured eggs in pan. Added salt. Fiddled with the gas on the stove – hotter, colder, hotter until the eggs were satisfactorily fluffy, salty, and warm. Peppered.

Reached blindly into the drawer and pulled a spoon from the bin allocated to forks. Returned wayward cutlery to quadrant assigned to teaspoons. Selected a salad fork (as shorter forks are both less menacing and more appropriate for non-dinner purposes). Sat down at the table, next to the open laptop. Put one warm bite into my mouth and began to read email. Didn’t taste the eggs. Shortly realized that plate was empty. Sat more quickly than is usual to attention. What is this sudden and quite unwelcome sensation running in a wave from my stomach through my throat? Am I about to vomit? No? Maybe?

Walked as fast as I could to the toilet. Crouched down. Burped. Spat. Waited. Three eggs remained on trajectory towards stomach, crisis averted.

Barring an intervention from the magical postman in the sky, I’m not pregnant. My son was sick with a virus last week, so that is the obvious explanation. Clearly, I have the same virus, a week later, and am feeling a bit sick to my stomach. That, or salmonella – though I’m guessing introduced bacteria would take longer to percolate and would result more likely in realized regurgitation rather than continued low-level nausea.

But I’m suspicious. I wonder. I’m having trouble sleeping again and this time it is not due to my ignorance of the caffeine in Kombucha. I’m caffeine-free and exhausted. My eyes are carefully guarded from all blue lights and screens during the twilight hours. And for the past few nights, I turn off the lamp and I’m lying there, mind traveling haphazardly down one path, jumping quickly to another, with no seeming theme or connection other than willing some divine intervention to give me answers, to guide me to a path.

How is all of this related to the phone call directly preceding my three-egg feast wherein two non-technical, creative types discussed the future of humanity considering advances in Artificial Intelligence?

Or to the essay I read last night by E.B. White, “Freedom,” from his (very highly recommended) book of essays One Man’s Meat? White writes, in 1940, in the midst of the Second World War:

The United States, almost alone today, offers the liberties and the privileges and the tools of freedom. In this land the citizens are still invited to write plays and books, to paint their pictures, to meet for discussion, to dissent as well as to agree, to mount soapboxes in the public square, to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship, to hold court and judge one another, to compose music, to talk politics with their neighbors without wondering whether the secret police are listening, to exchange ideas as well as goods, to kid the government when it needs kidding, and to read real news of real events instead of phony news manufactured by a paid agent of the state. This is a fact and should give every person pause.

I am not here to offer unsettling opinions or doom and gloom, but I am unsure how to arrange my life, what choices to make, how to be prepared for what is next in this world.

Reading good old E.B., I am not sure of his politics (a refreshing change from most of what one reads today which so very clearly promotes one dogmatic perspective or the other). He questions too much government interference, but is concerned about the wellbeing of other people. He fiercely loves and defends liberty and individual freedom, which in his case includes accepting and thoroughly enjoying diversity. When did the divorce of these things occur?

I feel this divide around me. I hear people — very close to me — saying that there will be two sides and I will have to choose one. Saying they can imagine a future when women have lost the rights we enjoy today, that strong forces exist with the intent of moving humanity in this direction.

And then there is AI (artificial intelligence, that is). Industries will be disrupted. Jobs will be lost. People will be desperate. There will be a revolution. The 1% versus everyone else.

I’m not sure it will go down like that. What I do know is that I will not be among those escaping to Mars. I’ll be here – on my beautiful planet. Living whatever life there is to live. With my last ounce of strength, or courage, or just a very strong will, loving my kids. Loving my friends.

In the face of all of this, and to keep from upchucking one’s eggs, so to speak, what can one do? Perhaps salvation, or at least moderate happiness, lies in defining a set of principles and devising an action plan. So towards those ends, a starting point:

Take care of my physical health.

Be a friend. Help people.

Learn new things. Read.

Stop accumulating.

Manage my chemicals.

Do more good.

Hug.

Breathe.

In a brave, new world I would feel better having a body that can get me where I need to go. I realize this won’t always be the case, but it can be the case now. The better a friend I am, the more likely there will be someone I can live with when the robots take my job, the more likely we can put our (non-mechanical) heads together to figure out how to solve whatever problems we face, the more likely I will have someone to laugh or cry with. If I figure out how to help people, I can probably scrape together a living in some way. Also, the world will just be nicer. As the world changes, I do not have to learn how to navigate Tumblr or read more on CNN or finish watching Game of Thrones. But if I keep learning how to be healthy, how to be a good friend, and how to help people, I’ll either be ok, or I won’t. But I will feel better. Reading (fiction, essays, poetry) helps me connect with human beings outside of this moment in time with other concerns, other fears. I can see which of their worries came true and which didn’t. I can feel how humanity has been good at heart for so very long, restoring my faith that goodness does seem to prevail, even if one is unfortunate enough to live through a dark period of history (of which there are many). Moreover, reading (and I’m not talking about news or Facebook) helps to remind me that people are people. They want things and they fear things and they do things but they are usually more like me than I expect, and even if they don’t see things my way, they aren’t as ignorant, or as selfish, as I might imagine. They are in their situation, doing their best with what they’ve been taught. Regarding material possessions, I have no need for a collection of My Precious Love-em’s Figurines, or of perfect shoes for any occasion (though I would be sad to part with my Paragon tea cups with matching saucers). These will all be lost or broken in the revolution. As it is said, you can’t take them with you.

Move my body. Eat vegetables. Be a good friend. Help. Learn. Read. Stuff is not life. Understand how marketers use my chemicals and stop giving my power away. Stop letting them buy my attention, my ability to focus, my precious time/life for so little! DO GOOD! Support people working towards my vision of a secure and healthy world. Hug as many people as will let me. Breathe.

Breathe. (I never remember to do this. I’m working on it.)

In.

Out.

Breathe. (Probably it is just a virus, but I will keep breathing, just in case.)

Why did I start a blog?

I don’t know what I want.

I kind of know what I want – I have a 10-year vision written down and it sounds nice. I want to be healthy, for my kids to be healthy, for everyone I love to be healthy, for everyone on earth to be healthy. To walk outside and feel the sunshine and the breeze, to breathe clean air, to drink clean water. To sit by the ocean and hear the waves and smell the salt air. For there not to be tons of plastic microbeads in the ocean being eaten by fish being eaten by me.

I’d like to be more patient. I’d like to exercise – but not in a gym because I cannot stand the smell or the feel or the screens or the machines. I’d like to have a comfortable sofa to sit on with a friend.

So, in the broader sense I know what I want, or I have an idea of a life arrangement that I imagine would be very nice.

I have a pretty nice life arrangement as it is – maybe that is why it is hard to be clear about what I want. Because, in truth, I don’t really want for anything. I have a sofa. It is hideously uncomfortable. But I have friends who are very kind and will just use extra pillows and seem to like me enough to deal with the lack of seating and still want to come be with me. I think that’s pretty lucky.

I am lucky enough to have all of the essentials. I can afford healthy food, security, shelter. I have loving relationships and good physical health.

So what is this feeling in my chest? Why, this morning, when my kids were sitting at the breakfast table, bright, shining, bursting with life and happiness, did I command silence and that they quickly finish their food because we might be five minutes late for summer camp? Why didn’t I wrap them in my arms, hold their joyfulness close to me, let it fill all the cracks, kiss them, put on their backpacks, walk peacefully to the car and deliver them to camp – to camp – possibly a few minutes late.

My husband asked me why I wanted to start a (nother) blog. He wasn’t being unsupportive, just trying to help me think about what I should spend my time doing. In the past 15 months, I have taken a musical theatre class, worked on a novel, intermittently blogged on another blog, started songwriting lessons, written essays that I want to try to get published but have not submitted, written ‘children’s’ stories that are not age appropriate, read tons of non-fiction, been addicted to ipad games, played my guitar and piano sporadically, bought a (still unused) ukulele, quit and rejoined Facebook, read way more news than in the previous 10 years combined. (I have also taken on a reasonable amount of contract work, primarily copy editing technical documents related to ‘sustainable development,’ and started selling beauty products).

I told my husband I was starting the blog because I would enjoy it — for fun. (I think I am remembering correctly.) I like to write, I like to read what I wrote last week. I like to come up with “programs” for myself and try them out and report on the results. So I think that originally the way I convinced myself to get started with this blog was that it would be enjoyable.

But in addition to that, I will tell you this. After my first several posts on this blog were published I felt some relief. Because there is a need inside me to make sure, if I die tomorrow, that there is a letter somewhere telling my kids who I am, what I love, what I think matters, some advice that they probably won’t take now but might value later. There have been two days in my life when I’ve actually sat down and started writing this letter to them (both nights before setting out to do something I was scared of doing). But after I started writing this blog, I felt better. I felt like some of what was inside was now written down somewhere that they could find it. And that is a comfort to me.

But where does that need come from? Surely if I am living my values, living in a way that shows what I love, what matters, they can just read my life and know what I would tell them. Yes, precisely, which is why I need it written down somewhere, because I have not yet figured out how to arrange the clues of my lived life to truly demonstrate what matters most.

Another thing: When I started my last blog, I posted a video of myself singing a song I had written. A friend of mine, later that week, sent me a recording of herself that she had just made, singing a song she had written 15 years ago. She thanked me for inspiring her to just sit down, in her den, and record it. Another friend wrote that she had started working on a song of her own.

Google’s Larry Page has said that Alphabet is looking to work on ‘billion people problems’ – how to build solutions, like self-driving cars, that can help a billion people. I guess I work on one person problems.

I made a star chart for myself and my husband (I promise I will explain more on this). It was really good for me, and he was a good sport. It improved our life or our feelings about our life. I shared it with a few friends. Some of them really enjoyed it and it improved their lives (or their feelings about their life).

So, in addition to wanting to write things down so they exist somewhere, I also think that sometimes I have ideas that are interesting and helpful to other people. I don’t exactly know what I might share that is helpful, so I err on the side of sharing more than less. I don’t know if this is the right approach, I guess I’m experimenting.

So, my faithful readers, this is all to say that I’m working it out. Am I writing to eventually have a book of different “challenges”? I definitely have a lot of challenges for myself that I think it would be fun to take, and share. Am I writing to build a platform for my ideas? Am I writing so someday someone asks me to speak about something? Am I writing to help others? Am I writing to figure myself out? Am I writing to practice? Am I writing to have fun? Am I writing to laugh or to help others laugh?

I don’t know.

And so it gets tricky. I write. I share. I think of each of you who has subscribed. Am I going to offend anyone I love? Are you going to lose faith in me? Am I going to be able to be authentic, am I going to lapse into someone else’s voice?

My other blog was easier because I didn’t share on Facebook and I’m pretty sure I only had one ‘regular’ reader. So I didn’t have all of this conflict when thinking about what to write – I just wrote – but then I didn’t have the energy that comes from knowing that people are reading.

I love the Happy Atmosphere Challenge. I have, for the most part, not gotten started implementing. But I loved writing it, thinking about, and I learned a lot about myself which I had meant to share in my next post which instead has turned into this. But having written it I am afraid that you won’t like it, that it is depressing, that it is not perfect, that it is not what you care about, that it won’t help.

So I get stuck. I have to decide what I’m doing. I also have to have some time to think. I also need to get an ergonomically appropriate writing situation. I also need to exercise. But there will be quests and challenges soon to help with these things. I have not played ipad games since starting the blog, and that alone is a victory over my chemicals.

Have a beautiful day. I hope you feel some sun and some wind on your face today. I will.

Who is Jenny Goodguts?

Jenny Goodguts saved my life.

Jenny Goodguts, a doctor’s appointment, and a lucky New Hampshire quarter (face up!). Saved my life may be a touch of overstatement, but I can tell you with full confidence that they brought me back to life.

There is nothing Jenny told me that I hadn’t been told before. Who can ever explain why we are finally able to do something that seemed impossible or hopelessly unappealing at one time?

Here’s what I can tell you. I was reading the book SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal (more about this in future posts). Jane, a game developer, has researched the psychology and neuroscience of games for over 15 years. She had a traumatic brain injury and created a game to help herself recover. Her game worked so well at boosting resilience (etc.) that she shared it with others recovering from similar injuries and then even more widely. Her TED talk on SuperBetter has been viewed millions of times.

One element in the SuperBetter approach is to adopt a secret identity. Choosing a heroic nickname can help bring out your challenge-facing attributes (such as determination), while also helping you to connect with your sense of humor and take things a bit less seriously.

But I couldn’t think of one. I know Vera Voce was a possibility at one point. I felt a bit stuck.

Please remember, at the time I was reading SuperBetter I was nursing an addiction to iPad games that I was desperate to stop playing. I would read a chapter. Feel excited. And then the next day I would play the game. Read a chapter. Know this time I was going to really stop playing. Massage my aching shoulder/hand. Next day play the game. Repeat.

Then I went to the doctor. She had results from some lab work that involved my toilet, a small collection dish, and some spatulas. The results were not excellent. Basically my insides are populated almost exclusively by E. coli bacteria and almost nothing else. I’ve been working to protect biodiversity in nature for 20 years and there’s none left in my own body. I didn’t like this. I also didn’t like a couple of things she said about markers for cancer and so I bought the pills she prescribed (all over-the-counter stuff) and came home.

I looked in my kitchen cabinet at the other supplements she had suggested five months prior. The ones that I had taken occasionally on a random morning if Mercury was in retrograde or the wind was right. I knew it was important, if I wanted my body to work, if I wanted to stop being tired and depressed, if I wanted to be able to do good work in the world, take care of my family, enjoy my life, stop playing those freaking games, I knew I needed to buckle down and take care of myself.

So of course I took one of every single supplement that she had recommended from November through March and then went on with my day. I went to the grocery store and bought kefir and sauerkraut. I went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning, and there she was. Sitting right next to my bed. Jenny Goodguts knew exactly what I should do. She told me to make an excel spreadsheet (I’m pretty good at that). The spreadsheet was divided into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were checkboxes at the appropriate times for all of the actions required to rebuild my gut flora. I made the spreadsheet as directed, taped it to my kitchen wall, and within a week my skin felt different. My skin looked different. I was eating sauerkraut every freaking day.

But I was still playing the game. About a week after meeting Jenny, I found a 2000 New Hampshire quarter face up outside of a Trader Joe’s. Once again, Jenny to the rescue! She knew, as we all do, that one cent equals one lucky day, 25 cents equals 25 lucky days. Face up, of course. I’m not sure if face down is half the number of days or just nothing, that’s never been clear to me. But 25 days of luck! Well, you don’t just squander that. Jenny had me tape the quarter to a piece of paper, write 25 empty spaces underneath, and tape the paper on the kitchen wall, right next to the excel spreadsheet. Each morning I would check off one space and she challenged me: You cannot play the game during your 25 days of luck or else no luck!

I did not play the game for 25 days. Oh buddy was I tempted. I would walk to the former scene of the crime (the corner in the kitchen with the 3-second warning before detection) and I would crave that dopamine/seratonin hit. I would want something to distract me from myself, from the decisions I can’t make, the work I’m not doing, the work I am doing, some of the monotony of my current life situation (laundry and dishes, anyone?). But the quarter was staring right at me from that very corner. And it worked.

Were the 25 days lucky?

For me, a 25-day (and continuing) game-free streak was all the luck I needed. I also developed this blog, from scratch, and figured out how to send posts via email, something I had been wanting to learn for over two years. I got my first non-spam blog comment from a reader I don’t know. I found out that the caffeine in kombucha was responsible for my insomnia, rather than all of my good ideas keeping me awake all night. I learned about some great local places for adopting a dog. I talked to more people. I asked more questions. I reached out. I tried things. Other things happened and I might not even know yet if they are good luck.

The cool thing about the quarter experiment was living in a way that encouraged good luck to happen. When you think you are possibly in a lucky streak, and you want to make the most of it, you get off your butt and do stuff. And it turns out that is more satisfying than planting wheat on your farm to make into a loaf of bread because you need two loaves to make a hamburger.

Dear readers, please rest assured that Jenny’s primary mission is not balancing gut flora. Though she can definitely come up with some pretty convincing arguments for why this is important to saving the wider world. Jenny works for good and she’s got guts (and she, incidentally, does have a full complement of healthy microbes). As soon as I met her, I connected with the name and it gives me energy so there you have the full explanation of where she came from!

I have been wanting to make challenges and secret missions for myself and my friends for over a year (or maybe a decade, or four). I’m not a super hero. I often have trouble making decisions, I often have trouble following through with (all my ‘good’) ideas, I have trouble eating enough veggies even though I KNOW it makes my life so much better all around. I just ate chocolate for lunch.

But if I sit down and have a few minutes of quiet and ask Jenny what to do, she mostly knows. She is definitely a results, not reasons, gal (more on this later). She can make a list and say: if you do this, if you stick with it, if you have a spreadsheet, or some stickers, you will get to the other side, you will learn, your life will be more in line with your heart, and you will feel good. And if you get other people onboard, well, watch out! It’s still partially a serotonin/dopamine thing, but the good kind.

So this blog is the story of my (ongoing) adventures with Jenny Goodguts including multiple excel spreadsheets, quests, missions, banks, bicycle helmets, a songwriting teacher named Karl, resistance, and more than likely some stickers. Stay tuned for the first mission — basic training!

RESOURCES:
SuperBetter website
Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life (TED talk)
Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world (TED talk)
SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully