Friday, June 26, 2015

Remember One Thing

Monday afternoon, I was manning the flower shop by myself when I received a phone call that was a wrong number. This isn't unusual, as our shop seems to have a phone number close to that of some sort of licensing office. The man on the other end of the line ignored my initial greeting and went directly into a rant about what happened the last time he attempted to call this office. In my usual kind tone, I explained "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number, this is a flower shop," while snipping the thorns from some roses. Instead of apologizing, as most folks do when they realize they've misdialed, this particular caller responded with an angry exclamation that included The N Word, then immediately hung up on me.

I'm a fan of expletives in general. There's an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants where he and Patrick find cuss words written on a dumpster and begin using them, calling them "sentence enhancers," and I love that description. I'm a writer, I love words and language and I don't think there should be "bad" words. There's a time and place for everything, even The F Word. However, I also believe words can be misused and that hate speech is a serious issue that exists in our society.

I'm not easily offended, and I believe everyone has a right to their opinion. It takes a lot to shock me but with all that being said, this man shocked me. I mean, mouth hanging open, dumb founded, flabbergasted. I stood there holding the phone listening to the dial tone in absolute awe. I could not believe what I'd just heard.

After I hung up the phone and regained my composure, I considered using Caller ID to call the man back. If it had been my personal phone and not my work place, I probably would have. (Although the next day my boss said "You can call him back right now if you want to, I don't care. That's not acceptable.") I didn't want to scold the man or insult him, I simply wanted to ask Why? Or more accurately, I wanted to say "Seriously? Five days after the Charleston shooting, and during an especially racially charged climate in our country, you want to use that word with a stranger? What exactly do you think you're contributing to society by talking this way?"

I've been thinking about that man all week, my faith in humanity a bit bruised. With all the horrific devastation in the news lately, I like to think that people are carrying on their day to day lives taking particular care to practice kindness and gratitude. I know I sure am. But I bet that guy hasn't thought about me for one second. He was just pissed that he was told to press 7 and when he did, he got disconnected.

This morning when I heard the news that the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage, I turned to my husband and said "Well, I'm glad to see that this can happen in our country, even if people are still using The N Word, " and we both laughed because really, you have to.

I still can't believe that in the year 2015, in The United States of America, anyone has to fight to be considered equal. We are all the same. I don't care what color your skin is or who you like to have sex with. I simply cannot understand why anyone who wants to get married should be denied that. I don't want to go into a political rant here, that's not my style. In fact,  I'm not a political person at all. I'm not a religious person at all. I'm a person who believes in fairness and love. It doesn't seem complicated.

Over the years, a few people in my life have tried to encourage me to change my blog title. More than a few people in my life are not exactly fans of following the rules. "Break some rules," they plead. And yes, I suppose we all do it from time to time. But I won't change the title of my blog because those are two huge fundamental parts of who I am.

Dave Matthews Band has an album called "Remember Two Things," and while I don't know what exactly that title refers to, I like to think it is along the same lines as what I find important in life. I guess it actually can be boiled down to one thing, which is simply: Be Kind. If you do that and you follow the general guidelines of being a considerate human being (even if you occasionally break a rule,) you should be okay.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some Thoughts On Tragedy

I sat up with a gasp a 2 o'clock this morning, in the middle of a dream about a high school classmate of mine who was in a horrific car accident earlier this week and is still hospitalized with severe injuries.

I woke from that dream sweaty, with a racing heart. I turned on my bedside lamp and leaned back against my pillows, attempting to get my bearings. I looked around my dim bedroom, at my dogs sprawled out around my feet, my husband curled up beside me sound asleep, and I thought How lucky am I?

I know that sounds cliche but there's a reason cliches exist, because they're relatable and generally true.

On one hand, I think How can I go about my day laughing and working when such suffering is happening to people I know? and then I think How can I not? That's my duty right now. There's nothing else I can do. I think of them and send positive vibes their way and then I go on living. I am overflowing with empathy and gratitude today.

One of the most beautiful yet frustrating things about being human is that the world doesn't stop turning when crisis befalls us. I have gone through experiences (grief, illness, divorce) where I've  wondered how in the hell everyone else was acting so normal. As I get older, I realize that they had to, just as I have to now. That doesn't mean I'm not acknowledging others' tragedies and creating space for them.

Hug your loved ones today, hug your dogs, hug yourself. Wave to the other drivers on the road and send them thanks for paying attention and not causing an accident. Do those things every day.

So often we travel around through our days without realizing how connected we all are, how much our lives are in the hands of the strangers around us. Saturday afternoon I was in Wal-Mart (I know, what was I thinking?!) when there was a sudden sharp BANG. I grabbed my husband's arm and hid my face in his chest. I thought it was most certainly a gunshot. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for another bang or a scream. It turns out that a child had popped one of those large bright rubber balls and everyone was okay. But look at how everyone in that store could have had their life change in less than a second. Those things happen.

I wasn't able to get much sleep after my 2am wake up. I tried to distract myself with a book but I'm currently reading a sci-fi novel about a man who died and unbeknownst to his wife, had arranged to have his head cryogenically frozen so he can live forever in the future. The poor widow is fighting to get back her husband's head. Needless to say, that didn't take my mind off the tragic thoughts it was holding onto! It's a good book though!

As I made my To Do List this morning and drank my spinach smoothie, the thoughts that made up this post came to me. I felt compelled to write them down before they slipped away, and share them with the world. Why? Because I can. I have this day and I don't want to waste it. See? A cliche again, but so true.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Power of a Good Book (and Google)

So far this year I've read 30 books. This may seem like a lot, but in the good natured competition I have going with my husband and my dear friend Lea, I'm in last place.

I've always adored books. As a child, before I was literate, I would carry my books around "reading" out loud to myself, making up stories to go with the illustrations.

For a couple of my elementary school years, we lived in an old apartment building next to a massive stone library in Phoenixville, PA. This is where my passion for books was truly nurtured. On hot sticky days of summer vacation, I would escape to the library's children's section which took up the entirety of its cool, damp basement. Some days I would check out the maximum, which was ten books, take them home and start reading immediately. I'd return them all the next day in exchange for a new stack.

I rarely ventured into the upstairs of the library, the boring adult part. It smelled different up there, dry and musty, and the aged wooden floor boards creaked, no matter how hard you tried to be quiet. When I did accompany my mom (who also loves to read and has always encouraged my passion for books, ) I would stare up in awe at the incredibly tall shelves. There were so many books in there. And someday, I would be a grown up and I could read all of them! I'll never accomplish that, but I'd think that young me would at least be proud of the effort I've put forth!

One of my many cluttered bookshelves
So obviously I read a lot of books. I usually have two or three going at a time, typically a fiction, a non-fiction and an audio book. I like to read from all genres and subjects.

Some books affect me more than others. What I treasure most is a novel whose story and characters pull me in so that I hate to put the book down and am still thinking and feeling about it days or weeks after finishing it. A few books that have done this for me: The Lovely Bones, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

If a book doesn't keep my interest, if it puts me to sleep or I just plain struggle with it, I quit. This is a new habit for me in the past few years. I used to push myself to finish any book I started, but I've realized that my time is too valuable to waste on any task I don't enjoy. Plus, there are countless amazing books out there waiting to be read! Not every book is for every person. Sometimes, the phase of life I'm in has an effect on how I interpret what I read.

Recently I've experienced something in my reading life that I hadn't noticed before. I've read a couple of novels that have made me feel just plain yucky. The one I'm reading right now is doing exactly that. Every time I pick it up, I shudder because I dread the detailed horribleness that awaits me. While reading in bed the other night, I turned to my husband and announced firmly "I do not like this book," and proceeded to explain why. He replied "Actually, it sounds like that's a very well written book," and I've realized he's right. The subject matter is dark, the story is sad and depressing, I find the narrator pathetic and unlikable. The fact that the author can invoke all of these emotions in me is impressive! ( I'm intentionally not naming the book or author here because I don't want to give you any pre-conceived opinions about it in the event that you stumble across it!)

I have a friend who is a writer, her first memoir was published a couple years ago. She's told me about reading her Amazon reviews early on and one particular woman who hated the book so much that she wrote a long scathing review about how terrible it was. My friend said at first it pissed her off but then she realized she would rather have someone have such a visceral reaction to her book than to just read it and say "Meh." My friend is right. Often as a writer, I've been afraid that what I'm writing might offend someone. Sometimes before I publish a blog post I torture myself with "What ifs." I've realized that if the words I write trigger any emotion in a reader, that's a good thing.

Earlier this month I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Her books always make me feel uncomfortable. The stories are super compelling but contain terrifying subjects. I always feel torn between wanting to stop reading yet needing to know what happens next! After I posted my review of that books on GoodReads, a couple of my friends commented they feel the same way about her writing. It's such an interesting concept to me, that here we are reading these books that disturb us yet we can't resist! That's such great writing!

I don't think I'll spoil anything here when I tell you that the story line in Sharp Objects is about some young girls who go missing from their neighborhood. ( I won't give you any more details!) While I was reading this book, following the stories of these fictional girls, I was transported back to the summer of 1998. I was living in the small town where I'd graduated high school and was on break from the community college I attended there. Suddenly one day, the town was covered with flyers for a missing 8 year old girl who had disappeared one evening.

All I had to do was Google the town name + the year + "missing girl" and there in front of me was her smiling red headed self from the missing posters. That image has been burnt into my brain for years, even though I couldn't remember her name. Good samaritans volunteered to help the police and search and rescue, combing the land for signs of her. It was all anyone talked about. Surely she would turn up somewhere, we all repeated, hoping that saying it enough would make it true. Two weeks later, the girl's body was found in the local landfill and the entire town grieved. I'll just say she had been killed by a neighbor and leave it at that. But we all knew the gory details that were in the town's weekly newspaper.

I was nineteen at the time and I had not witnessed anything such as this before. I attended the funeral, even though I never knew the little girl or her family. I felt compelled to be there, as did most of the town it seemed. It was the first of many instances in which I become fixated on stories of crisis, especially if it hits close to home. This is the reason I've stopped watching television news. I empathize so much with families affected by crisis that it drains me and I have a hard time focusing on anything else. The Newton shootings, the recent riots in Baltimore, these events get my attention and I have to shut it out. Otherwise I grieve for the victims and all the families involved. I grieve for how after each tragedy our world will never be the same as it was before.

And so while I was reading Sharp Objects, the summer of 1998 came flooding back to me, even though I hadn't thought of it in years. And then I felt guilty that I hadn't thought of that poor girl for so long. I'm sure her family thinks of her every day. And even though I knew the girls in the book were fictional, they felt so real to me. When I finished the book, I closed the cover, set it on my desk and then went to the bathroom because I thought I might throw up.


That's a good book, isn't it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

So What Have We Learned? A to Z Reflections

My reflection in The Bean in Chicago Jan. 2015

This is the third year I've participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge and my easiest to complete by far. The challenge came at a good time for me this year. I think I'm in a groove with my writing that I haven't quite found before. I like doing this challenge because it shows me that I can write every day. Like most writers I know, I struggle to carve out time in my daily life for writing. Posting daily, and seeing the list of thousands of other participants who are doing it as well, inspires me and motivates me to write more. I think a daily post is not something I could maintain long term but I still write every day and hope to post at least twice a week.

I spent the month of April blogging about what I believe to be the most valuable lessons I've learned in my life so far. Let's take a look at the full list:

Anything can happen.
Breakfast is important.
Crisis is sometimes needed to facilitate change.
I need to have dogs in my life.
Expectations are bullshit.
I wouldn't be who I am without my friends.
Practicing gratitude improves quality of life
Finding humor in difficult situations makes them bearable.
Ice cream makes everything better.
One woman's junk is another's treasure.
Kindness is a cycle, dole it out and you will receive it.
Things always look better in the light of day.
Marriage is different for everyone.
It's okay to say no.
Sometimes, I just need to go outside.
It's important to re-evaluate your priorities from time to time.
If you hate your job, you should quit it.
Returning is not the same as never having left.
It's totally okay to be a woman who likes sex.
Try new things.
Trust The Universe.
Eat vegetables.
Write things down.
Find your own xanadu.
Don't yell at people.
Have a zest for life.

Looking at that list makes me proud of myself! Not only did I write every day but I was able to look at some of the most crucial events of my life, find meaning in them and put it into words to share with others. That's pretty impressive, if I do say so myself!

One of the things I love most about doing this challenge is that it connects me with likeminded folks who connect with my posts and respond to me. This month I've gotten blog comments, personal emails, and text messages from people who relate to my experiences and enjoy my writing. That fills my heart with joy because after all, this is why I write. I'd like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who read my posts in April. Your support and feedback makes me a better writer and human being.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zest

Today is the final day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It also happens to be the letter that has stumped me the most when it comes to a topic! Even as I sat down to write today's post, I hadn't fully decided which word I was going to go with.

I have a list of 22 Z words that I came up with during my brain storming process. I sat with it for several minutes, my eyes stopping on each word and the one the jumped out at my the most was zest.

I went to my trusted Roget's Thesaurus for synonyms for zest and found this spectacular list: relish, gusto, enjoyment, pleasure, delight, good appetite, enthusiasm, cheer, delectation, satisfaction, happiness. I read all those words and thought Yep, that's all me! and so my word for today was chosen!

I think I can safely say that I have a zest for life. It has taken me into my thirties to get a point where I am comfortable with the fact that I like to live my life for myself and have fun. Even if that means I "don't act my age" and do things like wait in line with a bunch of children to have my photo taken with a mascot, wear clothes meant for younger folks and dress my dogs in funny hats!

So today's life lesson is: Have fun! Live your life with zest! Whatever that looks like to you is okay!

P.S. Bonus points if by now you are singing the jingle "You're not fully clean unless you're zest-fully clean!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yelling

I grew up in a yelling household. I mean, how do you expect people to understand you're angry if you aren't screaming at them?! I've realized that my default mode became to raise my voice when I got upset.

As I got older, I had a couple teachers and then bosses/co-workers who would yell. After a brief phase of being intimidated by the individual, I wouldn't take him/her seriously anymore. It's kinda like the boy who cried wolf, if someone yells at me every time

I will admit I have been guilty of the behaviors mentioned above. I went through a phase of being the "bad guy" in a work place and I know it wasn't fun for anyone involved, including me.

Over the past few years, I've really chilled out. I attribute this to my time playing roller derby and having a great life coach! I've learned techniques for dealing with situations that used to make me upset. More importantly, I've learned how to avoid many of those situations in the first place!

Even though I don't resort to yelling when I'm dealing with conflict, it still is my automatic response when I stub my toe or my dogs aren't listening! (It doesn't help either of those situations, by the way!) Where it does help, I've noticed is when I'm frustrated or anxious and need to let of some steam. A loud shriek of an exhale can do wonders for releasing some pent up energy!

So my life lesson here is: don't yell at other people. (Unless you really have to, like the building is on fire or something!) It won't make you feel any better in the long run, it certainly won't make the other person feel good, and it's not going to solve your problem. If you get to your yelly place, stop and take a deep breath and think about what you're about to say. I bet you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xanadu

Here we are at the third to last day of the A to Z Challenge and it's the first time I've gotten stuck coming up with a subject for a letter! These last three have had me a bit stumped so I turned to my shelf of writing books for inspiration.

Rogert's Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals defines xanadu as "A place of perfect, idyllic beauty."

(I know it's also a reference from Citizen Kane and a movie from the 80's but I can't tie those into a life lesson!)

When I left home on my adventure, I was not only re-evaluating my relationship with my partner but also my relationship with myself and with the place I live. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Montana has changed me. It's an incredible place. "Perfect, idyllic beauty" couldn't sum it up any better. I'm continuously amazed by how much open space and untouched land exists here. But for all the ways that Montana is lovely and majestic, it is also harsh. Winters are long and sub-zero temperatures can make daily life challenging. Your car won't start, the gas pumps don't want to work and staying outside too long can be a health risk. Spring finally creeps in with summer right behind it. Then suddenly there are forest fires and the air is tinged with smoke for weeks at a time. By fall, everyone is praying for snow again to quench the earth. It's an endless cycle.

Any Montanan can tell you, it's not easy to live here. There are reasons we do it and those are a little different for everyone. For me, it's the raw beauty of the place. People travel from all over the world to see what I get to view on a daily basis.

I've lived in many different cities in four different states and I've done a lot of traveling in the U.S. I've learned that no place is going to be a perfect place to live all the time. There are going to be moments of pure joy that make the rest of the time worth it. It's important to find the place that gives you the most number of those moments. For me, right now, that's Montana.

So my life lesson here is: find your own xanadu, the place you long for when you're away. You don't necessarily have to live there, but spend as much time there as you can. It will feed your soul!

Where is your personal xanadu?