When Bono saved Easter

When Bono saved Easter

I’m cold. Our house is under-insulated and old and it gets damp and I’m frugal/conscious of invisible gases in the sky. I sit with my hoodie hood up or a winter hat on and April starts on Sunday. I look out the window and the world is brown. There are a few blossoms hanging around but with the grey sky, the bare trees, and the mud, the blossoms look like lipstick on a corpse.

A devoted reader who, for the sake of anonymity, I will hereafter refer to as “Granny Goodguts” remarked that it has been a while since my last post. That my readers, given the arrival of spring (somehow this was especially relevant), might appreciate some further thoughts. Granny Goodguts suggested the topic of rebirth: An Easter reflection.

Usually (you may be shocked to learn), I quickly dash off whatever I’m thinking about and publish the post before I lose my nerve. But this request, this assignment, has required a bit more thought, more emotional labor. I have a lot of words, but no clear way to arrange them in my mind. I have cultural norms and childhood teachings all jumbled together and I guess I haven’t been able to hear, or to listen, clearly.

Enter Bono.

After some pondering, and writing words that sounded ok in combination but that didn’t sit right in my guts, my epiphany came only moments after the children requested music during our morning commute. My phone randomly selected U2’s California, Ghostbusters (I ain’t afraid of no ghosts), Second Hand News, King of Pain, Endless Love, and Renegades on the way to school and back. Waiting at the exceptionally long red light, Maggie requested that no one sing so she could listen.

So there we were sitting quietly at the exceptionally long red light and Bono sang:

At the dawn you thought would never come
But it did
Like it always does
Whoa-o-o-o-o
All I know
And all I need to know
Is there is no, yeah there is no end to love

That was the moment when it all felt clear to me. I knew what I would come home and write. I might have even gotten a little bit teary, or even just a bit out of my body, unreal for a moment.

But to explain all that, I have to go back, way back, to January 1, 2018.

***

I am awake, eyes closed in a California king-size bed with one of those super comfortable memory foam mattresses at my friends’ house. I can hear my children running up and down stairs, playing ninja or something else that is satisfyingly gender-inspecific. My husband is up and probably about to enjoy his first cup of coffee in the New Year. We have stayed up late eating fondue with our friends, an annual tradition. We have had more wine than I am used to (these days). We have watched our yearly fill of Ylvis and searched for something else on YouTube that would make us laugh as much but come up empty-handed again and still Ylvis has made nothing new.

I lie in the bed. I hear the sounds. The heater has been on all night so the room is overwarm and the air is dry. I stretch and feel the coolness of the sheets. I wonder if I will have a headache later. I am definitely thirsty. I consider that maybe this is not the best way to begin, this slight dullness, the heaviness from overindulging in bread and cheese, maybe it is not auspicious. But my optimism, or maybe just a survival instinct, kicks in and 2018 again feels precious, like a crisp, empty notebook in September. I think to myself: In 2018, I am kind to others and to myself. In 2018 I tell the truth, or rather, I don’t tell untruths. In 2018, so far, I am patient, I don’t shout or scowl to get my way. I don’t say things I don’t mean. I keep my commitments.

If I’m being honest, that is more of an idealized script. That is what I might think if I hadn’t over-cheesed and drunk wine without counting the number of glasses. What I actually think is more like: It’s a new year and so far you haven’t made any mistakes. You haven’t lost your temper. You haven’t been unsupportive or said anything rude. You haven’t said things you don’t mean. And so far you haven’t gone a single day without washing your face (or insert habit that I’ve struggled with for previous 40 years and still haven’t managed to instill). Then I think something along the lines of: Let’s just try to keep this streak for as long as we can. And I go on to have a few really good days. This little talk I give myself works, if only for a short while.

When asked about rebirth, this scene was what first came to mind. New beginnings. Starting fresh. A second (or fortieth) chance.

January’s possibility infuses me with a pleasant energy, like a small cup of good coffee without sugar, a healthy buzz. I can grow. I can choose. I can set some intentions and make plans. I love to get out empty sheets of paper and write down some things to accomplish (in 2018 I will finish drafting a novel), some practices to make habitual (in 2018 I will meditate 5 days each week), some themes for the year (in 2018 I will “ship my art” or “live like a pro”). I have a whole year ahead of me. A whole unknown year to be lived, a blank notebook to be filled with bold strokes and delight.

February is a bit more ho-hum. Still cold. Someone is probably sick. But the hopefulness, the momentum of January remain. Eleven more months to make this a great year.

Then March hits. Still cold. Someone is probably sick. The end of the school year looms. It is time to plan for summer. Summer? How could it already be time to plan for summer? Once summer comes the year is half gone. How could the year already be half gone? I’m still not living like a pro. I’ve missed a lot of days of meditation. The novel? It’s going to take a bit longer than expected. Probably not THIS year anyway.

Now we get back to where we started. It is the end of March. My hoodie hood covers my ears but my feet and hands are still cold. I have made my plans. I have worked and I have tried. This year will come to an end, like all of the years before, and some things will change and some things won’t change and I might never write that novel.

I look out the window at the grey sludge. Life is hard. Bad things happen. Scary, sad things. What can I do? I don’t feel like I can work any harder. I don’t think I can change any faster. I want to do my best but I’m tired. I want the world to be different, kinder, safer. And I’m still cold, my shins, inside my bones (maybe if you could finally stick to that exercise goal, warm you from the inside out i gently chide myself…)

***

The easter parade begins, very subdued. Tiny snowdrops are first to emerge from drifts of collected leaf debris, little white faces peeking over the decay of last summer’s growth. Then the crocuses, purple, gold, white. Thin green spikes barely supporting a few slovenly arranged petals that last only days. The trees are bare, their branches like arthritic hands reaching for the light. The daffodils open, cheerful yellow in the midst of the still, brown deserts. Weeping willow, apple blossoms, cherry blossoms emerge, and those dark red blooms, unexpected, appear on the maples. Then one day you walk outside and it isn’t dead, cold winter anymore. The birds are the first to tell you, but you can also feel it in the wind, a damp coolness that whispers to your skin. Your body, which you had been sheltering from the cold for five long months, feels something different. A yearning to stay out, to be gently caressed by this misty breeze for a few minutes more.

There may be nothing (excepting my children, my spouse, my parents, my siblings, my good friends, chocolate souffle, tree frogs, my piano, and my magenta sweatshirt) that I love in this world more than perennials. They are like magic. The ground is flat dirt. Cold. Hard. And underneath there is this surprise waiting. There is no hint except sometimes some dried old stubs left from last year. I start watching at the beginning of March. My eyes hungry, methodically scanning for even one small green tip. And one day, something is there. A tiny green shoot. A small red bump. A hint of life. And as it slowly emerges, day by day, I worry that it will get too cold again and it will die, but it doesn’t. It is prepared for the cold. It has a little jacket or it waits just long enough, till just the right moment on just the right day. And it turns into a whole plant. Maybe a coneflower, maybe a black-eyed susan, maybe a poppy (I always hope its a poppy), or milkweed or sneezeweed or salvia or foxgloves or bee balm. The point is, they are all there, waiting under the flat, brown mud. All that cold winter they were under there and one day you look and you see them popping up that first tiny shoot, that first small green leaf pushing through the remnants of last year.

That tiny shoot of green, that hopeful sprout — It’s the same plant. It isn’t a new plant. It isn’t re-born, it was alive — living — all the time. Sometimes it was drinking water, sometimes it was drenched in sun, sometimes it was sweetly singing to the honeybees and the butterflies, sometimes it was blown by a harsh wind, sometimes a kid picked all of its flowers or stepped on it, sometimes it was spreading roots under ground, sometimes it was protecting itself under a blanket of mud. And here it is, the same plant, in a new season.

***

We humans, mortals, we plan, we work, we strive. We tell ourselves that we are not enough – that we need to be reborn, start again. We hack ourselves to be more productive, more intentional, more beautiful, more (fill in the blank).

Night comes. Darkness. We can’t see clearly. Not because we didn’t work hard enough, not because we are flawed.

Because the sun has moved.

And we can’t bring it back.

Easter is named for Ēostre or Ostara, a Germanic goddess of dawn, the dawn which arrives at the end of each night. Always. No matter how poorly you slept, if you stayed awake all night, crazed, disconnected thoughts holding you hostage, forbidding rest and peace, eventually, the color of the sky will start to shift. The sun returns bringing light, warmth, life.

The concept of a new year, a new you, a do over is so seductive. I can be better. I can do better. I need to be different from yesterday’s me. But what we need, what I need, is not rebirth, but endurance. Acceptance. Faith. Humility.

Faith that even when I can’t see it, life is welling up underground, fed by what it was before, fed by all the life that was before, the leaves of last year, the same water that has trickled through every pore of this earth for billions of years.

Acceptance of what has been. Of what is. That the power to bring back the sun is not mine. Nor is the responsibility.

And Love.

My second moment of insight during this morning’s commute came towards the end of Endless Love (ironic?) when Lionel and Diana are keying up for the power punch and he sings (and I with him, while simultaneously wondering what it is that makes this particular part of the song so irresistible, so potent):

CAUSE NO (no) ONE CAN DENY
THIS LOVE I HAVE INSIDE
I’LL GIVE IT ALL TO YOU
MY LOVE (my love, my love) MY ENDLESS LOVE

Acceptance, surrender, not being able to bring back the sun on command. These are difficult things. So what do we do? We know the dawn will come, we know life is beautiful. We know we are a part of the whole. But there’s still the waiting, the uncertainty, the dark, the cold. We have to do something, we can’t just sit there and wait for the world to sort out all of the problems on its own, humming fancy mantras. Jesus taught two basic rules for living: Love God. Love your neighbor. Not wipe your own slate clean. Not secure for yourself a fancy reward at the end. Not check all the boxes or make your-self into something you think others will admire.

All i know and all i need to know is there is no, yeah there is no end to love.

Maybe the power to endure comes from the endlessness of love.

And maybe that Endless Love is found in connection. Merging with another. Recognizing one’s relationship to the whole. Not smoldering, not wanting, but a bond strong enough to enable releasing, giving away.

We are alive and we are reaching for light, just like everything else that lives, and the path is not clear. The cells in me right now, made of sun, water, and stardust, different to the cells from last year but part of the same organization, would like to write a novel. Want to practice patience. Feel good when I meditate. So that is how I will organize my time in this season. Not because what I am needs to change. But because when the dawn came today, I woke up, alive, myself.

My dear Granny Goodguts, you have asked me about rebirth. Your question raises so many others and, even with Bono’s assistance, I still can’t quite work it all out. But to honor the importance of your question and in summary:

Spring, Ēostre, Easter, Ostara reminds me that the dawn always comes no matter how long and dark the night. That I don’t bring the dawn of my own accord, through my hard work. Instead, I acknowledge the night, I surrender to what is, I accept what has been. I share my light with others when I can, I appreciate the light that others shine for me. I wait. And when the dawn, Ēostre, comes I see the signs of life that were there underground all the time. I don’t need to start from scratch. I don’t need an empty notebook. I’m not an empty notebook. I’m an annotated, dog-eared notebook, loved, one tiny, rich volume in an unfathomable library.

Still writing that novel?

Hi friends,

I wanted to send an update since it has been over a month since my last report. Yes, I am still wearing the sweatshirt (though it is warm today so I just opened the windows to let in some fresh air). The rest of the ham is in the freezer awaiting combination with red beans (mom, can you bring me some red beans when you come to visit?). Yes, we have been visited by another dread virus but this one was significantly less laundry-intensive. In other news:

The novel: Total word count is 52,291 words at present. The goal was to reach 70,000 by the end of Feb but that’s a pretty tall order on the 21st. I’m aiming for 8,000 additional words this week and think that is achievable (as a stretch goal) because I don’t have another contract to work on and both kids are just getting over the most recent sickness so they will probably not be home from school again this week. The novel (and a recently concluded contract) is the reason you have not heard from me on the blog lately; I’m learning to prioritize and also to live in a bit of an artistic bubble. Apparently this is somewhat necessary to actually produce something.

I am really enjoying writing the novel and the exercise is completely different to what I would have guessed it would be like. You learn a lot about yourself. You pay attention to the world in a different way. It is not always comfortable because you have to BE in a particular feeling to write about it well. Or pretend at least for that time that you are feeling that feeling. And maybe it is your subconscious or what I’m calling “infinite intelligence” but you are typing away and stuff is happening in the story and then you go back and read it and think — who wrote that? — where did that come from? And it doesn’t feel like it came from your mind, but you like it (or maybe you don’t).

My original expected word count for the first draft was somewhere around 80-90,000 but it is looking like the first draft will be over 100K. I think about sharing excerpts sometimes, but I’m not quite ready for that.

Clean eating: Every year (for three years running), Dave and I spend three weeks in January/February eating “clean” — that means we don’t eat gluten, dairy, sugar and a number of other foods (coffee, corn, soy, alcohol, it’s a long list) during that time. We did this as an experiment three years ago and it fundamentally changed the way we eat. What happened was that we found it to be sort of tough the first year (though much easier when you do it together) but after about a week we stopped craving sugar (and stopped craving much of anything really) and we figured out a few standard meals that we love that meet the criteria and now we eat this way 85% of the time until life gets too stressful or we are visiting friends/traveling.

We have finished our three weeks this year and as usual it was eye-opening and beneficial. This year, we followed the protocol in the book Clean Gut (with our own modifications) but for the two prior years we followed the protocol in Clean (again, modified). There are recipes in both books but we’ve also learned a lot about clean cooking in the book Clean Eats. Here’s what I noticed: My mood and energy are SIGNIFICANTLY better while eating this way. You don’t necessarily notice the improvement until you go out for breakfast and get a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel with a vanilla chai after the program is completed. You swim through that day totally exhausted and realize that you would rather spend your life feeling optimistic and energized.

At some point I would like to share recipes for the six “clean” dinners that our kids are now very happy to eat and that I would choose over just about any other dinner (other than dinner at a friend’s house — I would always rather go to a friend’s house and have dinner, no matter what is on the menu). I would also like to share our meal planning system because it is super simple and a game changer (for us anyway).

French food challenge: We have started playing a sort of game with our kids to encourage them to approach new foods with curiosity and also to be more interested in the different ingredients that go into different meals. I call it the French food challenge because, as we’ve all heard, “French kids eat everything” – my kids are really enjoying it and soon I will share it with you. It’s been a great thing.

Reading List: I’ve read a few books so far this year that have really shifted my habits and behavior in a positive way. In order, I’ve read: You Are a Badass, Think and Grow Rich,  The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.

I’m still slogging through Don Quixote but not because it is not amazing, it’s just dense and these other books have been from the library. I’m also currently reading 1491 (about the pre-Columbian Americas) and I haven’t quite finished my Dickens biography or my E.B. White. And I’m listening to Mark Twain’s autobiography (20 disks) in my car when I’m on my own — I’m on disk 4.

The largest changes I’ve made so far in 2018 have to do with prioritizing fewer things instead of spreading myself too thin, being more decisive, and what I’m calling “living like a pro” — based on the concept of a pro in another great book, The War of Art. It has always been easy for me to act when someone else is holding me accountable but difficult when I am only accountable to myself. But the things that I want to accomplish require me to hold myself accountable, so that’s what I’ve been doing so far in 2018 and it is working pretty well.

That’s a thousand words which is taking up enough of your time for one day. My bulbs are starting to come up and a few perennials are barely peeking through. I’m definitely ready for spring!

How to lose 10 pounds in 10 days

How to lose 10 pounds in 10 days

Reader, have I got great news for you!

A proven weight-loss formula. Guaranteed results.

Step One: Send your spouse out of town for a week. Make sure to have your identity stolen the day before he/she leaves and to have an Apple laptop ordered by a criminal using your credit card to be delivered to your home address. Make sure the criminal subscribes you to thousands of websites in Germany and Japan. When you go to sleep each night, think about this criminal, the information they have access to, and whether they are watching your house to pick up the computer, or if they’re stupid enough to have figured out how to hack into all of your personal information but were kind of in a hurry when it came to the address, maybe they were watching a show on Netflix at the time or something.

Step Two: If your child’s school hasn’t already planned to give your children extra time off for a teacher workday right before a three-day weekend (presumably in case you want to fit in a ski vacation less than two weeks after school has resumed after Christmas break), go ahead and take your kids out of school for that extra day. Heaven knows, with all of the snow days and delayed starts and early closings you certainly don’t want to miss a chance for more together time.

Step Three: Maybe you want to get out of the house for a few hours over the course of the four-day weekend. Go for it! Make sure to visit someone who recently had an extra virulent strain of a stomach bug that took down every member of her family. Eat a meal there. Bonus points if someone in the family still wears diapers. Viruses live in poop for extra long and luckily diapers are nothing like Vegas, what goes on in a diaper…

Step Four: Wait 24 hours.

Step Five: Voila! Your children will start to vomit. It must be in your car, all over the seats that you could not imagine why you would ever have scotchguarded at the time of purchase (what could happen?). Let this be at night, and make sure the vomit smells strongly of parmesan, even though no parmesan was consumed. Drive home for 15 minutes while you breathe in the aroma/airborne vomit particles. You may roll the windows down, even if it is 10 degrees outside, as this will have no impact on either the smell or the eventual health outcomes.

Step Six: After your daughter vomits all over her sheets, and you’ve changed her bed, and then your son vomits all over his sheets, and you’ve changed his, after they’ve both vomited in buckets and toilets at the exact, precise, same instant, after your son has dry heaved all night and your bathtub is literally filled with dirty sheets, duvets, pillows that you will wash in the morning but are just a little too scared to take down into the basement, what with the criminals out there and all, slip into at least 3 hours of blissful sleep.

Step Seven: While you are doing thirteen loads of laundry, given both the rank odor and the fact that you will definitely be touching some upchuck, you will not feel hungry. Luckily your kids can’t keep anything down except water, so you won’t need to cook for at least a day. If hungry, feed them applesauce.

Step Eight: Wait four hours.

Step Nine: Change your daughter’s sheets again as the vomiting is ongoing!

Step Ten: It seems like so many steps, doesn’t it! But you will get quick results—guaranteed. You’re just about to hit pay dirt.

Step Eleven: I know that Step Ten wasn’t a step, but if you stick with it, you’re about to seriously lose some weight. It will be totally worth it.

Step Twelve: Your energy and resolve to complete the program may start to flag at this point. Make sure to have your credit card company send you notifications every time there is a foreign transaction. This way, even when you are using the lid of an old cashew nut can to scrape dried vomit off of a pillowcase, you can vicariously enjoy lovely meals out together with your beloved spouse, who you know is working really hard (and that is not sarcastic, it is hard work to have meals out with smart people who are interested in the same things you are). Did I mention that the vomit smelled so strongly of parmesan?

Step Thirteen: Make sure to keep your kids home from school for that fifth day since they still don’t have the energy to sit up.

Step Fourteen: Clean like the dickens. Do the laundry. Wash the dishes. Put everything away. Make sure that you finally clean the vomit out of the car. If you don’t do this today, it’s going to get ugly. You won’t know what to do because vomit will have totally soaked in to your non-leather seats. Just rub it with a cloth, rub and rub and rub, first with water. Drench it with peroxide (more of the rubbing) and then coat whatever is left with baking soda. This will inoculate you against ever smelling the odor in your car again, though you will be told in the future that it still smells, terribly. Look, when you’ve spent that long with your face that close to three-day-old vomit in a car, you really can’t smell it anymore, it’s just some white, chunky blueberries and other stuff that’s very hard to identify that you’re just rubbing, and rubbing, and rubbing into your car for what seems like a long, long time.

Step Fifteen: Definitely don’t figure out how to order groceries to be delivered to your house. You’ll just go to the store tomorrow, right? After all, you still have a gallon of milk, two cheese sticks, some wilted kale, a bag of carrots, and an old chicken carcass that you were going to make into broth, an excellent thing to have on hand in the present circumstance. Sure, having some groceries delivered would provide nourishment for you and your children, and there is snow forecast, you live at the top of a treacherous hill and don’t have four-wheel drive. Better idea is to text your neighbors to see if anyone can drop off a pack of dry pasta. You’re going to need it.

Step Sixteen: Dine—Feast!—on a scrumptious and decadent half-full bowl of plain Essential Everyday Thin Spaghetti. It is the only thing your kids seem to be interested in and, since none of you have been eating for days, even if you can still smell the vomit from cleaning the car out earlier, you haven’t had a meal in 48 hours. Eat the noodles as—who knows—this may be your last meal for a while.

Step Seventeen: Get one night of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. In your exhaustion, you’ve forgotten about the nefarious criminals so you won’t jump and wake up each time an old board in your house shifts due the bitter cold, and unless there’s snow tomorrow the kids will be back in school. Your spouse will be home in just two more days. Hooray!

Step Eighteen: Now you’re going to have to arrange for a snow day. Or at least a delayed start to the day. It is imperative that your kids not go to school for that sixth day in a row and that they be home with you.

Step Nineteen: Get out of bed. Start some more laundry. Make sure to wash your hands at least fifteen more times. Notice how raw and chafed your knuckles are from your newly compulsive behavior. Now, drink some tea. Isn’t that nice? Warm, soothing. Hmm—that’s funny, you don’t usually feel so queasy drinking tea. Maybe you should sit down on the sofa for the first time in three days, just rest for a couple of minutes.

Step Twenty: Don’t get up from the sofa, for any reason, for the next twelve hours. Curl up into a ball. Teach your daughter how to adjust the thermostat (from the sofa) because you can’t get warm, even covered in the sleeping bag that was luckily shoved under a door to keep the draft from coming in.

Step Twenty-one: Remove the sleeping bag because you’re too hot. And so on, back and forth. Teach your daughter how to make an emergency phone call from the cell phone, just in case. Notice she seems quite eager for you to lose consciousness, so she can try it out. Try to keep your son from giving himself a concussion, all day long. Recognize that he was definitely ready to go back to school. Google “flu symptoms” and “norovirus”. Note that you don’t have a fever, so you’re probably fine. Teach your children how to make their own lunch (again, from the couch). Shout (with all the strength you can muster—this is the exercise component of the plan) to/at your son that under no circumstance should he, as he proposed to his sister, get the big knife out of the drawer. They will eat bagels and apples.

(Step Twenty-one.five:) Resist any urge you might have to punch your children in the face. You might feel this. It can happen. Look, we all feel like punching our kids in the face once in a while, right? But punching your child directly in the face will not keep them from doing things that might lead to their doom. Plus, you can’t get to them. They won’t listen to what you are saying and you can’t stand up to reach their faces. You can’t even grab at their batman costumes. Instead, try watching more of the brilliant and compelling drama, P.J. Masks. Hope that your children quickly learn its delightfully melodic theme song.

Step Twenty-two: Let your children make dinner for themselves. Suggested menu: a granola bar, baby carrots, and a cheese stick. No knives!

Step Twenty-three: Take your temperature. Aha a fever! Perfect. This plus the aches all over your body will give you enough cause for alarm that you will probably not sleep all night. Not to worry, your son also will not let you sleep all night.

Step Twenty-four: Have your children put you to sleep. Talk them through their nightly routine from your bed. Don’t remember what happens next.

Step Twenty-five: Wake up an hour later, sweaty. Lie there sweating all night. It will give your skin a rosy glow. Have your son call for you throughout the night. He’s little and he’s nervous that you’re not okay. You aren’t, but stumble dizzily through the dark, repeatedly, to reassure him anyway (Note: Coming into contact with his now runny nose is recommended for the 20-day program only).

Step Twenty-six: Wonder how in the world you are going to get your beloved children out of your house/to school in the morning. Think about this all night while you are trying to find the cool spots on the sheets that your fevered body hasn’t already turned grossly warm.

Step Twenty-seven: Wake up very slightly improved. Pack two lunches, get breakfast for children, make sure they have underwear, hats, gloves, snow pants, backpacks, library books, favorite toy car. Whatever you do, make sure to get to school before carpool is over because if you had to actually leave the car to take them in to get a tardy slip you might fall down (but it is clearly safe for you to drive, no worries).

Step Twenty-eight: Get in the car, don’t notice any smell of puke. Do notice the low fuel light is on.

Step Twenty-nine: Last car in line before carpool ends. Success! Lean against car with eyes closed while filling gas tank, count over and over to ten both to make it go quickly and also so that you look slightly insane so no one bothers you. Make it home while listening to the same song on repeat for 20 minutes because you can’t be asked to hit any extra buttons or figure it out. Binge watch When Calls the Heart on Netflix all day long. Eat nothing.

Step Thirty: Get in the car to pick kids up. Drive down the street. Wave to a neighbor, like everything is fine. Poop in your pants. No, like really do it. Just poop in your pants. Wonder if that really just happened. It did. Turn around and drive home. Change your pants. Even though you are really dizzy, and it takes a while, walk downstairs to put the soiled pants on top of the washing machine. It just would not be okay for your spouse to arrive home first and find your poopy pants in the sink first thing. Gotta keep the romance alive. Drive back to school. Pick up your children. Drive home. Lie down on the sofa, wrapped in your sleeping bag. Wait.

Step Thirty-one: Your spouse should now arrive home. He/she may notice that there is a jar of empty applesauce on the kitchen counter along with all of the breakfast/dinner/lunch dishes from the past 24 hours. He/she may or may not notice the blue bucket and handheld vac next to front door (one used for vacuuming baking soda before driving to school, other in case you vomited during the drive), or that every surface in the den is covered, overrun with stuffed animals, an exploded Life game, pieces of a marble run, calico critters, art supplies, pillows, blankets, matchbox cars, random mail everywhere (literally like mail confetti). He/she may make a comment— out loud—about the state of the household. This comment alone could burn off up to one of the ten pounds. But you are still too weak to care. And he/she is not wrong. It is a fricking war zone around here.

Step Thirty-two: Allow the spouse to take the children to the grocery store. Bingewatch more When Calls the Heart for as long as possible (it is about a handsome mountie and an heiress turned schoolteacher in a small mining town in Canada in the 1910s—super highbrow).

Step Thirty-three: Take sips of things that make you feel sick to remind yourself that you truly still are really, really not hungry. Get on the scale, because you have an idea for a blog post.

Step Thirty-four: Be grateful that it was not the flu. That your children did a great job making their own lunch and did leave the sharp knives in the drawer. That you had someone, albeit with a terrible, disgusting virus lurking in a diaper in her home, who loved you enough to endure a morning with your two plus her two kids so that you could have some relief (also that you had another friend to whom you gifted this special program on Sunday night, the 10-day-program pilot group?). That your spouse is back and that he does good work that you are proud of, and sometimes he gets to have dinner out while you are scooping vomit with a nut lid. That he has done his fair share of scooping vomit too. That you have neighbors that brought you pasta, and would have helped more if you had asked. That you didn’t punch anyone in the face and were too weak to yell (very much). That all that was stolen was some electronic information and the time it is going to take you to unsubscribe from thousands of random newsletters. That you successfully intercepted the laptop, cancelled your credit card, changed your gmail password and apple id, and returned the laptop to the Apple store. That there is no snow forecast for at least two weeks. And that your jeans are going to fit really well for at least a couple more weeks.

MAGIC!

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!

Nothing fancy, just some updates

So, let’s see, when last we left our heroine, she had initiated work on her novel, reaching a total of just over 17,000 words in a bit over two weeks. Unfortunately, she had also reverted to playing addictive iPad games (only twice, or for two days, before deleting FOREVER, she hopes), had developed a debilitating addiction to coffee, had said some pretty strong things about glow sticks (the people are just trying to have some fun, can you relax?), judged, possibly unfairly, modern children’s literature based on a cupcake-pooping cat,  was, in the opinion of many, justified in her anger with the Sackler dynasty, and had just about pulled herself out of the annual mid-Autumn slump, yearly heightened by overconsumption of Kit Kats or their close relatives.

And there we left her. On the edge of our seats. Will she write more? Will she keep going with the blog? The posts seem to be coming less frequently, with less regularity. Perhaps another creative project that’s run out of steam? We wondered about her Beautycounter business — is network marketing really the best use of her time? We wondered if she had any thoughts about the crush of patriarchy, the potential election of Roy Moore in Alabama. We were curious as to why she didn’t replace that uncomfortable sofa.

Well, trusted readers. Wonder no more.

Sofa: WE GOT A NEW SOFA!! Call me up if you’re ever in the neighborhood. There’s somewhere to sit. Your feet don’t even have to leave the ground.

Roy Moore: Shoot. This blog isn’t close to long enough to say it all. I have been trying, with some effort, to understand the position of the people I know and love in Alabama who might consider voting for this man. They are not dumb people. They are not bad people. They are persuadable people who, like all of us at times, allow one particular issue to matter more than character. I think we all need to shake hands — all of us pretty good people, hard working, loving people who try to live as decently as we know how — and we need to agree that we’re going to vote based on character. Because I promise you there are a bunch of a-holes without character who are super duper happy to take lots of money from people who don’t give a crap about you, about your kids (in utero, one-month old, in elementary school, or at 14) and use that money to print fliers making you feel outraged about something and then laugh with their rich buddies all the way to the bank as they turn our beautiful country into a sh*t show.

That’s probably not as eloquent as I would like to be.

THE PATRIARCHY: Shoot. This blog isn’t close to long enough to say it all. But, perhaps just one short note. SO,  over the weekend I read an article by a woman who was seething, raging, about the patriarchy in which we all live. You see, she had hosted Thanksgiving dinner and had had about 20 people into her home. Men and women, all decent folk. Now, what I am about to tell you may shock you, but she walked into her own bathroom, in her own home, and there was a toilet seat raised. Yes, you read that right. The seat was UP. This woman, this abused and tortured soul, had to TOUCH THE SEAT to lower it. Well, I can tell you she was livid. Beyond belief. She furiously sought her husband, rending her garments, tearing her hair, who would dare to treat her thus! In case you are not familiar with the term, patriarchy is when a culture is designed around the needs of men. So her hypothesis was that a man, by not lowering the seat for her after his use of the commode, is assuming that the way men use the toilet is the way everyone uses the toilet, or he just can’t be bothered to think about who comes next. My husband was quick to point out that every single time he uses the toilet he touches the seat not once, but twice. He must lift the seat before he uses the toilet and then replace it back again afterwards. So, to me, that sounds more like a matriarchy? I always assume the seat will be down. That works for me but not for the men in my house. So they, very courteously, both lift and lower, and then wash their hands.

I thought about women who still walk 10 miles a day to cart water back to their home on their heads so that the men can eat first and best, so that men can bathe themselves, so that men can sit and talk with their buddies, where women are forced at a young age to marry some gross old guy based on their father’s wishes — and don’t have a sink right next to the toilet (and probably some froufrou Beautycounter liquid hand soap) where they can wash their hands if there’s a seat lid up once in a blue moon.

I’m not saying we don’t have long roads to walk in this country. But I think things are pretty rough for most women AND men. And I feel this kind of indignation, over a raised toilet seat, confuses things (confuses what, well, that’s what I need to spend time writing more clearly! I have thoughts, lots of thoughts). [Significant text cut. Not ready to get all into this. Forgive me.]

Beautycounter: Promoted to Manager in November. Yes, it does take time away from my promising career as a best-selling novelist. But, truth be told, when I sat down and did a vision board to figure out my life purpose, I realized that helping more people to have dewy skin was my true calling. Everything I’ve ever done in my life, from living in tents in Africa to organizing international teams to negotiate at UN Conventions, it was all leading to this.

(I really do like it. It feels a bit like playing store and playing dress up at the same time and it gets me out of the house and meeting new people I like and washing my face. Conflicted about the industry? Perhaps. Mad as heck that companies are knowingly putting carcinogens in children’s body care products. Yep. Yes I am.)

THIS BLOG WILL NOT RUN OUT OF STEAM: But it may cut back to a twice-monthly schedule to keep up with the demands of my novel writing and cosmetics pushing. Stay tuned. Maybe I will figure something out around the New Year.

Novel: Current word count is 17,090 words. And if you’re paying very close attention and are even just adequate at math you will recognize that this marks an advancement of zero words since my last post. Yes, I do have a good excuse. It’s that I stopped writing when my mom came to town before Thanksgiving and now I just don’t exactly know how to get started again. That’s not fair to you because it isn’t the whole story (mom came, dad came, Dave got home, Thanksgiving, mom left, I don’t remember a few days, Sam got sick, I stopped drinking coffee, I don’t remember more days. I sold cosmetics. I listed coins on Ebay. I wanted to write. I volunteered in Sam’s class. I saw a friend. I helped a neighbor. I cleaned some dishes.)

I have committed to get to 25,000 words on the novel by the end of this month. A reachable goal. Also to write two blog posts (one almost done) and to finish reading Don Quixote. I’m only about a hundred pages in but I can see why people make such a fuss about this book. I mean, if you are a huge book nerd probably. You might not like it otherwise. I laugh out loud every night and profess my unending love for Cervantes. I MIGHT be more in love with him than with E.B. White. Let me get to the end first. I’m sorry E.B., I still love you. Forever. But… we’ll see.

Parting words: I really like writing to you. Thanks for reading. I hope I haven’t written anything too stupid or offensive. I’m trying to work some things out.

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…

One way to write a novel

PART 1: In which our heroine lays out the project and multiple objections

On Saturday night, we decided that I will write a novel. I stated my objections:

Objection the first/primary: What about money? Do I not need to exchange my time/life for money?

I have, on a notecard taped above my desk, a quote from Alan Watts recently sent to me from the Universe via a wise soul: Under all circumstances one should behave like the water, one should adjust to the requirements of the outer world, keeping safe his/her unchangeable essence in the meantime.

Adjusting to the requirements of the outer world is a tricky thing. Which are the REQUIREMENTS and which are not?

Outer requirement: One must meet the basic material needs of oneself and one’s offspring (and possibly other immediate family members, and pets, and neighbors in trouble?). Food. Water. Shelter. And immaterial needs. Love. Safety. Belonging.

Ah, belonging. There’s the rub.

Human beings exchange their time/life for belonging. For security. For experiences. For freedom. For stability. Of course, money can help provide some of these things, to some extent, but on its own cannot provide any of them. Lots more to think about here.

Decision: I have three months to write the first draft of a novel. I will continue to sell cosmetics. I may accept editing contracts that are proferred during this time, but will not pursue them. I will sell my coin collection.

Objection the second: a novel? An essay? A short story? A song? An album? If I spend time on one, I’m not spending time on the other. If I don’t write music now, will anyone want to hear (me perform) it in five years when I finally make the time? If I pick the wrong project now, and it doesn’t work, will I have to get a “real job” and the song/story inside will remain unsung?

Decision: You have an idea for a novel (well, lots of ideas but one that you would like to start now). Your songs are nice but (per counsel) your writing is better. Write songs if you want. Focus on the novel. Get a draft done. Find out if you can do it.

Additional note: NaNoWriMo (that is, National Novel Writing Month) begins November 1st. The objective is to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. There are tutorials, support groups, resources (etc.), and generally some community supporting creative endeavor so it seems fortuitous to begin at a time when there might be some human engagement more readily available (rather than sitting at home alone rocking and laughing at all the hilarious lines my amazing characters will be delivering).

Objection the third: Write a novel? Don’t you know the world is kind of in trouble?

I was in the carpool line to pick my kids up from school yesterday. From private school. Their school is located along a street where approximately 0% of the population are likely to be able to afford to send their kids to the school (many of the families at the school likewise cannot afford the tuition and many, like us, receive some not insignificant financial aid). Before pick-up begins, cars wait along the righthand side of the street in a long line, sometimes blocking driveways.

This was the case yesterday. We all shifted, some forward, some back, to allow a highly incensed man to pull his tall, very shiny, black pick-up truck into his driveway. It did take him an extra 30 seconds to pull in and I can definitely relate to feeling frustration when you get home and there is something blocking your parking space. It IS frustrating and it would be annoying to have all these Audis and Lexi, and the odd Tesla, blocking your drive each day at 3 pm. So he said something rude to one of the ladies in the line, I believe it was a nanny, in an unpleasant and not totally unthreatening tone, and then went inside the house.

Directly after this incident, I had pulled forward and there was a car parked on the side of the road next to me (a parent who had walked up to collect children rather than waiting in line, motor running, exhaust wafting up to wrap our planet in just a tiny bit thicker of a sweater) and so my car was about a foot more towards the left than most of the other cars. I was sticking out, ever so slightly, to the side when, from behind me, comes a towering monster of a truck. Grey. Chevy? Or Ford? Who can say. I don’t know much about motors or the mechanics of producing sound therein. I think, if you have your car in very low gear and you press the gas, say to the floor, you can create what turns out to be an unmistakably intentional and incredibly hostile sound. A chest-tightening, stomach-flipping sound that pretty clearly indicates to the lady in the car sticking out an extra foot from the line that you wish she would eat s**t and die. You hate her and her f***ing private school brats and she should go f** herself. I think that’s what the car was saying but I don’t speak engine so I could have some particulars of the translation wrong.

If you are me, next you start thinking about people who are mad and about guns and about children and schools. And then you start thinking about solutions and what could change and what is making that person so upset and what can be done and misinformation and power and people profiting from being divisive. And then thankfully your kids get in the car so all you can think about is keeping their bodies separate, explain why it is too late to change their minds and both be Odd Squad agents for Halloween, try to give a lesson in economics and explain the difference in cost and value, explain that while some kids do, in fact, buy whatever costume they have in mind each year for Halloween that’s not how it was when you were little and that’s not how it is going to be for them but you are happy to help them make something out of all the dress-up clothes at home. Explain that it is less about the expense than about the disposability and the consumer aspect of buying new costumes on a whim each year. You know you are no fun. Why can’t anything just be fun. So you spend the afternoon putting jewels on a crown with your daughter who has decided that she will use a dress she has and be a queen, even if the boys don’t like things like princesses and all that. Son still undecided.

So anyway, there are problems. They are big and they are scary. There are helicopters flying to the Pentagon all the time I can tell you. Let’s not get into this anymore here, I think we all know what I’m talking about.

So I’m going to write a novel. It’s not going to solve anything. But there have been some pretty awesome people in history who have thought it was a useful idea to write a novel. I am, statistically if for no other reason more closely linked to ability, unlikely to join in their ranks in terms of longevity and impact, but if many of my heroes and soulmates have been writers, maybe I can be excused from saving the world for a few months and try my pen.

(Silent and unspoken objection (the fourth)): No, I don’t think I’m Jane Austen, or Charles Dickens, or William Faulkner, or Umberto Eco, or Tolstoy, Forster, Byatt, Woolf, White (etc., etc.). I just want to write. Can I please just write? Can I?

PART 2: In which, after some slight delay, our heroine does, in fact, begin to write a novel

SO, Monday morning was my first morning for novel writing. I had it all blocked out in my calendar. 9-12 is for writing each day, five days a week (for three months, and if you can’t do it then DOOM!). I sat down to write. I found the four handwritten pages I had started two or so weeks ago, ready to type them into my laptop (still undecided whether to write by computer or hand), screens off after 9 PM as you know. I placed the sheets on the desk, directly next to the computer. And I had a thought. Maybe, just for a few minutes, I might have a quick peek at some Jane Austen. Just to get myself into the mindset. I picked Persuasion off of the shelf. I opened it to the first page. I read the first half of the book sitting at my desk. I got up and went to the bathroom. I sat on the pull-out sofa and read the second half with my eye on the clock noting I would have to leave to get the children by 3. I finished the book around 2:30. The whole book. And then I ate something, maybe some nuts.

The afternoon passed. The kids were fed, bathed, put in bed. Sam lay upstairs and sang himself to sleep (NSync’s Bye Bye Bye his current lulla(bye) of choice). I was tired and a bit off kilter having read the entirety of Persuasion that day. Well (I thought), I’m not going to type now (screens and all), I will read a different author. I revisited the same shelf, selected A Tale of Two Cities, unopened (by me) since 1990, and read until just after Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton have had dinner after Darnay’s (very close) reprieve from being quartered, meaning to be cut into quarters, your guts pulled out and burned while you’re still alive (book the second, chapter 4) – about one-third of the book. I slept fitfully (in case you are unfamiliar, this is not a ‘light’ book being mostly about human appetite for torture and beheadings and prisons, etc.).

The next morning, Tuesday, I KNEW that I could not spend another day in the same way. The novel must be begun!! But I just so happen to own a two-volume biography of Charles Dickens. I have had these two volumes on my “to read” shelf for several years. The shelf containing over one hundred books (with new books frequently added and old books rarely subtracted), it was not clear when reading about the life of Dickens would become the top priority. Well, it turns out Tuesday was the day. Just one chapter as I’m insatiably curious about his earliest childhood when his dad went to debtor’s prison and he was pulled out of school to work in a factory. I want to know a little bit about that. To imagine a mind like Dickens’ sitting in a blacking factory, glueing labels onto pots and sealing them for twelve hours each day, at age 11, not knowing if he would ever have another opportunity to do anything else. So I read for two hours and then went to the doctor, had some lunch, read just a little bit more.

STOP! (I reprimanded myself.) No more putting it off!! Start your novel already.

So I did. Tuesday after lunch. I re-read the handwritten stuff, adjusted, and got to 1,268 words by 3 pm. Again got the kids, kept them alive, fed, bathed, read (I forgot to mention we started reading Stuart Little on Monday night, Sam is LOVING it, so that’s three of my favorite authors in one day). I then spent the evening reading more about the life of Charles Dickens.

Let me set the scene carefully for what next precipitated (ha ha, you’ll get it in just a sec): In bed, Tuesday night, I was propped up against my (multiple) pillows, reading my little heart out, resting the book in an upright position against my body, most likely with one or the other eye closed (I rest them that way when I am tired) when something dirty fell out of the book and landed on my chest. Some brownish bit of grass or old leaves. I moved another page and more earthy material fell out of the book.

Four-leaf clovers.

About 10 four-leaf clovers were either tucked into or had just fallen out of a page towards the middle of the book. The last person to have intimate contact with this particular volume before me had amassed a collection of four-leaf clovers and pressed them in between the pages.

I don’t know if this was my grandmother’s book. Or my great-aunt’s book. Or my great-grandmother’s book (or some dude who liked to collect four-leaf clovers, it could have also been a man, of course). What I do know is that someone, and, knowing the tastes of my living relatives in terms of their likelihood of having read a Dickens biography in this lifetime, someone a long while ago, pressed a bunch of four-leaf clovers into this volume, sending me a message decades later.

Do you remember when I found that lucky quarter at Trader Joe’s and stopped playing addictive iPad games and healed my gut flora? Just imagine how much more powerfully some 60-year old four-leaf clovers found in a Dickens biography I had begun the same day as starting my novel might affect me. It’s a sign!

I wrote again on Wednesday (up to 2,993) and then Wednesday night began reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I want to reread To the Lighthouse but fear I gave my copy away in a clutter-clearing binge and so looked for fiction, by a woman, about the life of a woman. Slim pickings. There was only one choice on the “to read” shelf. I’m pretty sure I’ve read Their Eyes Were Watching God before but I recently took my sister’s copy from a shelf at my parent’s house – it feels familiar but I guess it would have been years and years ago that I read it. A little over halfway through with that one. Add it to the bedside stack.

So here it is Thursday and I’m writing this to update you on the latest and will move on to noveling next.

I like what I’ve written so far. I’m not sure what I’m doing exactly. I don’t have a plan. I’m sort of trying to excavate the bones (as Stephen King describes in On Writing). I’m sort of trying to write what I know. I know there are things to say. So I guess I’ll get to it now…

Cleaner energy for your home

I know I keep saying this, but I am about to take some massive action. IT IS TIME! So stay tuned for that (or be forewarned, whichever feels appropriate). (And check out the Happy Atmosphere Challenge if you are new to the blog!)

I keep wanting to write a post about switching to clean(er) electricity but it requires some additional research so I keep putting it off instead of just sharing what I’ve done so far.

If you are concerned about climate change, one action you can take that is not super expensive and doesn’t take much time is to check out Arcadia Power. My electricity bill now comes from Arcadia Power and I have chosen to pay a few extra dollars each month so that my energy use supports a switch to clean energy.

This is a big topic and there is a lot to write/understand but there is not an easy way, in Virginia, to use only clean energy unless you install your own PV system. Arcadia pays for Clean Energy Certificates as a sort of offset of your energy use so that they are supporting the generation of clean energy SOMEWHERE to offset my dirty energy in Virginia.

The other option with Arcadia, that I am excited about, is you can buy a “share” (of sorts) in a clean energy (solar) project where they have installed solar panels on the roof of a building in New Jersey. I pay for a 10-year share of this project and then get a deduction on my energy bill each month equal to the amount of solar energy generated by the project (and my up-front funding supports the creation of new clean energy, builds demand, helps drive innovation in and incrementally decreases the cost of solar).

Another company to check out if you live in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, or Pennsylvania is Clean Choice Energy. It looks like, rather than providing offset certificates, you can actually source your electricity from clean energy facilities directly.

Supporting a shift to clean energy in this country and using market forces to move our country in this direction are KEYS to more carbon on earth, less in the air. I do not suggest that market forces are more important than policy, but it is something you can do TODAY. Call your senators, be upset, march, etc. AND SHIFT YOUR HOME’S ENERGY TO CLEAN SOURCES WHERE POSSIBLE.

If you live outside of Virginia, there are resources you can look at to see what is available in your area in terms of actually having your power supplied by renewable sources instead of using certificates (I will provide some links to resources in the future). Many of my readers live in redder states which may have fewer options in terms of clean energy so Arcadia may be a good solution for you.

Pros of switching to Arcadia today:

  • You can unswitch at any time. There is no contract, obligation, etc.
  • Your bill can remain the same. Unless you choose to upgrade to 100% renewable (which is only a few dollars more each month, depending on how much electricity you use), your bill will not increase. You will mostly be sending a market signal that you support renewable/clean options. This is valuable.
  • You can choose to support installation of new clean energy projects like the solar project I have joined. Cost starts at $100 which gets you a monthly deduction for 10 years, no matter where you might move.

I would love to get comments from any readers who have switched to clean energy to know about your experience and what is available in your area! I will compile any suggestions and add as resources under the Happy Atmosphere Challenge.

Just as a reminder, if you are reading this and don’t subscribe to the blog, and would like to have future posts (on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis) sent straight to your inbox, you can subscribe here!

Thanks for reading!!

Basic Training, My Song (updates)

Basic Training, My Song (updates)

Basic Training Update

My four weeks of Basic Training are just about to wind up. In case you are very good at math or paying close attention, YES, it has been more than four weeks since I started. The beautiful thing about Basic Training, and this particular spreadsheet, is that it is fully adaptable. If you have sick children for a week, if you are sick, if you just forget, if it becomes overwhelming, if you decide to rebel for a day, YOU CAN JUST START AGAIN WHEREVER YOU ARE (as you can see in the photo of my spreadsheet, I stopped and started more than once).

If you get started and decide, hey, I don’t think dancing every day is a key to my wellbeing – or it is not the most important key to be focusing on at this point – YOU CAN CROSS IT OFF! Just cross it off. Leave the list on the fridge, with a big line through dance every day and that’s that. Dance if you feel like it.

If you get started and after one week you have a much better understanding of what activities might really work best, and they are different from the ones on your chart, YOU CAN START AGAIN!

(Caps are meant to indicate enthusiasm, no one is shouting here.)

For me, the most important lessons from my “four weeks” of Basic Training are that:

1) I can meditate!! That “monkey mind” that won’t be quiet when I try to meditate?? Noticing the incessant chatter of my brain is the whole reason TO meditate! If you try and your mind just won’t stop THINKING, congratulations! You are alive! Just keep practicing ; )

2) Setting aside 10 minutes each day to play an instrument is, essentially, another form of meditation and incredibly soothing to my body, mind, and soul. It feels like getting a brain massage every night after the kids go to sleep. And it usually turns into more than 10 minutes.

3) Turning my attention away from electronic devices by 9 pm each night has been difficult to stick to, but I notice that my life feels much, much better if I adhere to this practice. Not sure what to do after 9? [Insert joke about sex here]. I use my time after nine to read, play music, fill notebooks, have conversation with my husband (remember conversation?), organize stuff, or, if all of those just feel like too much effort, I just go to sleep. I use my phone for guided meditations, so I have started a meditation on my phone after 9 pm and still given myself credit (because I make my own rules!).

4) I am still struggling with wake times but am hoping to make a big push in this area when the clocks change. I am also hoping that the next phase of the program will help with waking. And I notice that screens off after 9 makes a big difference with the ease of waking also.

After completing Basic Training, our next stage is going to be focused on energy. Just so you have some concept of what I have in mind for The Jenny Goodguts Super-ish Hero Training Program the components will be some versions of:

Basic Training

Module 1: Bad Guys 101 – Loop-o

Module 2: Allies/Good Guys

Module 3: Lair/Hideout

Module 4: Secret Weapons

Module 5: Super Powers

In Module 1 we will slightly modify the spreadsheet, but we will keep paying daily attention to most of the Basic Training activities and add some new tasks to specifically look at energy drains and try to plug some energy leaks.

If you haven’t yet started Basic Training, the spreadsheet and explanation are available here.

Module 1 should be ready to launch next week (I hope!). If you have finished Basic Training, print your spreadsheet again and keep going on your Basic Training activities until Module 1 is ready.

My Song

I wanted to give you an update on what’s up with the song I wrote last week.

I know what I am about to report is small beans in the world of the Internet and Facebook. But it is big beans for me. So, as of this morning, my song has at least been ‘seen’ by 489 unique visitors – that’s definitely the most of any song I’ve ever written. I’ve had 2,796 page views this month, which is not my ‘biggest’ month, but it is a pretty big turn out for me. It is a bit dangerous to look at statistics like these because they have the tendency to make you want to make the numbers bigger. I don’t know if wanting bigger numbers is nature or nurture, but it definitely feels exciting to see numbers getting bigger (unless you are looking at a scale or the price of home renovations, for example).

So it seems like I’ve written a song that not only I like but some other people do too. I’m thinking about a way to record it so that I (and anyone else who wants to) can have the song as a music file instead of having to listen from the website each time. Will let you know when I figure it out. I have some other songs I’ve been working on. They are not all in the same vein as this song. I will share some of them. They are almost ready.

 

I wrote a song

I wrote a song

(Updated: 6/9/2019)

I was sick yesterday and I recorded myself singing a song that I was writing. I wanted to share it with my family, but since I was sick I thought maybe I’d wait and try again later.

However: I live very close to the Pentagon and around 10 AM in the morning, right after I had recorded the song, some kind of very loud jet plane flew over my house. Not uncommon at all. But as it was flying over and the noise was getting louder and louder and closer and closer, I thought: I would really like to share that song right now, just in case. I’d like them to have it. I’d like it to exist somewhere other than on my phone. So I sent the recording (recorded in my voice memo app) to my parents and my brother and sis via text message.

And then my mom called and, because she’s my mom, told me it was great. So I decided to share on the blog too. And here it is. I wrote a first draft of this song (lyrics only) last Wednesday night and then my kids got sick. And then I got sick. I put music to the words yesterday, revised last night, and recorded it on my phone this morning.

The original recorded version is here and a more recent version (slightly improved though still recorded on the phone voice memo app) is included below (click on the arrow to play).