There’s a thrift store I frequent in the little town of Felton CA. In this one stoplight town, in a barn-sized store, at a square counter, works a woman. At first glance she is unremarkable. She is pleasant looking, but not beautiful. She is older, but not old. She is smart, but not genius. Unremarkable.
Except by me, who is about to remark on how very remarkable she is.
Everyday she stands at her post helping people, checking them out with their purchases, showing them the discarded treasures in the glass countered case, directing them to the location of a desired or hoped for item. It’s all second hand stuff, and most of the people who come here do so because they can’t afford to go anywhere else. Some of us could, but prefer reusing and recycling the endless hoards of things that flow through our lives, or we prefer hunting for treasures to the instant but empty gratification of ordering on line. We like the personality of things that have been gently used and loved by others. There’s something special about reading a book and finding a notation in the margin calling attention to a particularly poignant phrase or startling fact. I especially love when people look up a word they don’t know and scribble the definition to one side. Vocabulary speaks volumes. I guess that what it’s for.
I remember my great grandmother, Edith, crocheting and knitting and quilting even at 100, binding together thread and fabric to make beautiful, useful objects that comfort and embrace her family to this day. I have two of her beautiful crocheted blankets and they are family treasures.
But some people stitch things together in a different way. They use words instead of a crochet hook. They let their actions and their empathy create their art. The woman at the thrift store spends the majority of her work time chatting with people. She speaks to each and every customer, even if it’s only briefly. Some, mostly those who seem alone, she goes out of her way to notice, especially the elderly. Calling to them by name if she knows them or asking questions and drawing them out if she doesn’t. “Did you get the water heater fixed?” or “How are you today? Are you staying cool in this heat? You be careful out there.”
The questions matter, of course. But far more important is that she listens to the answers. She ‘oohs’ over phone pictures of dogs and grandkids, she delights in people’s little joys and offers small, but sincere, sympathies, she encourages, hopes, and includes.
So today, when I was leaving I noticed a trinket in the case that was pretty, and I asked about it. She said, “It’s nothing very special, I’ll let you have it for two dollars.”
I said, “Thank you,” and then, feeling that was inadequate, I added, “and thank you for being so kind to everyone who comes in, it really makes a difference to us all.”
She pulled off her glasses, looked me in the eye and said, “I think that’s why I was put on this planet, to be kind to people from a humble place. To…let them know that they are…” she lost the thread, and I picked it up, knit one, pearl two.
“It is something to be ‘seen.’” I told her. “It means a lot.”
She nodded, feeling our smiles link together into lace, the simple words used as stiches that bind random lonely moments into shared experiences. I think she was grateful for the words, but I couldn’t really see clearly as my eyes were tearing up. Such awareness moves me, and I left grateful.
Because, you see, without people like her, those who see everyone as part of the pattern, we would all be tattered scraps fraying in the wind. All of the threads that knit together to make a community, or a family, or a friendship, would lay discarded, tangled, and useless.
But when we care, when we see others, our empathy grows. We begin to bind together, to strengthen from single human strand to twine, and on to sturdier and stronger rope, until we have a bond so strong that we can build with it, sometimes we can make an intricate work of art, and sometimes we can make a tow rope to pull a truck out a ditch, but either way, it takes more than one thin strand.
You are not alone. Why pretend there is strength in that?
Every refusal of someone else’s worth weakens your fabric, leaves you unfulfilled, another project undone, another possibility lost.
I may not have the patience or the skill to make an actual quilt, but I see my life and my exchanges with friends and strangers as a virtual quilt. Every time I stop and speak with someone whose appearance frightened me and find they are kind, I add a panel. Every interaction I notice between others embroiders another flower onto the blanket that lies lightly over my shoulders.
And when I die, I will be wrapped in that gorgeous shroud of moments, knitted together into a tapestry that was my life.
It will not unwind, it will not fade, and it will shimmer even as my memories die away with me. Only I will see this actual blanket, only I will be wrapped in it, but many of the panels or woven scenes will be shared, they will be part of others’ stories as well.
Thank you for seeing me.
Thank you for sharing your silk, your wool, the very fabric that is you.
I’ve been in Santa Cruz for several months now (you can tell by the shoes) and I can’t help noticing that people are nicer here. They make eye contact and smile, they chat with ‘strangers’ in groups, they offer quiet compliments in passing, they have amazing style, but each to their own, there’s none of that insecure fashion sheep bs, when a traffic light changes, no one even honks!
It baffled me. Where’s all the anger? Why aren’t people being shitty to each other? How can it be that the people with money don’t seem to think they are more important than everyone else? Why, I thought, do people seem to get along so much better here? For a while it all seemed utterly mysterious until it clicked.
People here are happier. They are accepting of others, their lives are richer, fuller, more magnificent because of the others passing through life with them. I’m as likely to see a in a generic business suit having coffee with a friend sporting multiple piercings and dreadlocks as a cop sharing a laugh with college kids celebrating 420 with a joint so huge seven people had to claim shared ownership as only one ounce is allowed to a person in public at a time. It was a defence the men and women in blue were happy to accept. With a shrug and a smile of relief that they didn’t have to crucify anyone for having fun, they high-fived the group and moved on.
I have days when I can’t stop smiling.
And every time I see multi racial children with their ultra-white granddad or some ‘scary’ black dude offering help with such gentleness to a Korean exchange student who can’t figure out the bus system, I’m awed. This is how it’s supposed to be. There’s very little fear of others because they don’t look like you.
It’s not that I didn’t see these things in other places, I did, but not to the same degree, or any where near as frequently as I do here.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a horrible homeless problem, there is crime, there are racists, though I haven’t personally witnessed any blatant discrimination here yet— not something I can say about Los Angeles or Atlanta or even New York. But I’m not that naïve, It’s here. There are dangerous drugs and mental illness, there is domestic abuse, of course there is. Santa Cruz isn’t some Shangri La, just a pocket of humanity brave enough to dream we could live in a place that is at least Shangri La adjacent. You know, not Eden, but one of it’s suburbs.
Living in a community where you actively seek to interact with many others, each quite different, on a daily basis as opposed to avoiding human contact unless they are the exact same as you, is enriching. Differences are embraced, celebrated, and above all respected. It’s like living in a museum that displays multiple artists and art forms, holds concerts for all types of music and dance performances from every culture, instead of just one bland canvas done in weak pastels that everyone allowed to enter can agree is ‘very nice.’
One reason people seem so happy here is that this city is a blending of business, art, university, nature and community. One reason is the ocean, so close and so calming. One reason is the forests, filled with ancient trees and budding life. One reason is that it’s hard to start an argument with people who are generous, sharing, and accepting of the fact that maybe that mean guy just had a really hard day.
I’ve watched many people, including my daughter, share their food with the homeless, seen construction workers offer a tarp to a couple without shelter, witnessed an entire group of young people at a farmer’s market care about a stranger who had just been ditched by her boyfriend. Nothing obvious, they just sat down near her and spoke softly and kindly until the tears subsided, then they invited her to join them for lunch. Many of you who are reading this would have rejected this group out of hand, they were tattooed, some barefoot, they wore beads and symbols of coexistence, they probably did yoga in the park for god’s sake, but their empathy made them worth more than any movie star or millionaire in that moment. Would you have made an effort to comfort a complete stranger in a fragile state?
And every day I go out three times to walk my dog. Sometimes I don’t feel like it, I’m tired, or working, or just lazy, and every time, I’m glad I went out.
Every time I meet someone great, like Elissa, my downstairs neighbor who happens to have a degenerative muscle disease, a love of writing, and a wicked sense of humor, or Stuart who sits on the corner during the frequent bike or foot races along the ocean route and applauds every single one of the participants. Every. Single. One. It takes hours, and the grateful reactions he gets makes me think that he has chosen his occupation well.
It’s been hard lately to stay positive about my race—and I’m referring to the human race. With the many dicks in the white house and the constant barrage of empowered hatred, ignorance, and dark-ages religious dogma causing so much pain in the world, so senselessly, it’s enough to make me want to give up and live in a cave.
Or not at all. If we can’t live together with dignity, what’s the point?
So last night, after yet another day of being horrified by images of substandard human behavior, I went out at the smoky coal end of dusk. My eyes were cast down and I felt as though enthusiasm and hope had been vacuumed from my body leaving me spent and disgusted. People suck, I thought. Even people I once respected have fallen so far from grace in my eyes and my heart that I can’t even look at them. As I walked the half block toward the shining silver sea, a car slowed for the intersection on the street over looking the ocean. It was too dark and far away for me to see who was in it, but as the car came to a stop, I heard the voice of young girl, maybe six, shouting out the window, “Hello! Hello!” she called to the world outside, to everyone. Not to me in particular, there were many people out walking much closer to her than I was. She was angling for an answer, trolling for a connection, fishing for a friend, and I understood that.
Because I’m me, and I don’t give a crap how stupid I look, or care if anyone knows what I’m doing or why, I answered. That innocent voice in the twilight deserved a response.
“Hello!” I shouted, waving madly from thirty yards away. I had no idea if the kid could even see me. I just wanted her to know she’d been heard, that we were out here, that her joy and her friendliness would be reciprocated by other, like-minded souls. The car began to pull away from the stop sign and just before it was out of earshot, the little voice called out four more words.
“I like your jacket!” it rang out, filling the coming night with presence.
I threw my head back and laughed then shouted back, “Thank you!”
I don’t know if she heard me, but that’s okay, because the ‘thank you’ wasn’t just for her, it was for her spirit, the effect she had had on the air, the universe, the love of sharing a moment.
Four words, and my faith in humanity was not just restored but recharged. I felt as though I had received a benediction. A blessedly religion-free benediction of possibility.
What will you shout today? Will it be in anger or joy?
You might think it’s because I hang off the edge of cliffs, and that’s probably a good enough reason. But then there’s this. Three days ago, I get a call from my sister that my mom has fallen, smashed her head and has no memory of how it happened or what’s going on. Because she’s a Shattuck woman, she insists to her friend who found her wandering around outside that she doesn’t need to go to the hospital. Her friend texts a picture of the open gash in mom’s head to my brother, an ex-paramedic, and he texts back, “CALL 911”
I feel horrible that I’m not there. Normally, I’m the go-to choice for trips to the ER. Next thing I know, I’m getting calls left and right, she’s in the trauma unit, she doesn’t recognize my brother or sister, who are there with her by now. She’s disoriented, can’t remember her birthday and has no recall of the last few days. They’ve done a brain scan (meaning she had her head examined!) and it looks okay, no internal bleeding. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m up in Santa Cruz, so since she has family with her, I tell them all I’ll head down to LA the next morning early. I feel so guilty that I’m not there I go ahead and pack a bag so I can leave super early. I’m not feeling great myself, so I go to bed early.
Within a few hours I wake up with a fully loaded Ram pickup truck parked on my head. I mean I have a headache like I didn’t know you could survive, like I’m not sure I can stay conscious if it’s going to hurt this badly. Like second only to childbirth but with no breaks between contractions painful. I can’t take light or sound, any movement makes me want to scream but at the same time I wouldn’t dream of making a sound, it hurts even to breathe. All I can do through the night is cradle my head in the dark. I take as many ibuprofen as is legal, maybe more, and try to meditate the crushing pain away. That requires focusing on my breathing, which hurts, so…that’s not helping.
By morning the headache has lessened a half a degree, but I cannot get out of bed. I’m the worst daughter in the world. I should be in LA taking over my mother’s care. My cell phone is buzzing and ringing with news about my mom, questions about when I’m coming, etc, and every time I look at it the light pierces my brain. Still, I force myself to find out what’s happening from my siblings and let them know I’ll leave in a few hours if I feel better. Doctors call, and squinting and grimacing, I answer their barked questions about my mom’s medical history. Why are they all so loud?
Then the phone keeps ringing and the screen says it’s my mom, but when I pick up and whisper hello (all I can endure) there is no answer. After four or five times, we have this exchange.
“Mom? Mom? Are you there?”
“Oh, hello.” She speaks as though she’s surprised I called.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“Well,” she say indignantly, “I’m in the hospital and I have no idea how I got here. No one has even called me except my friend Sharon.”
“Mom, Shawna and Dwayne were with you all day yesterday.” (my siblings)
“Shawna is on her way there now.”
“And I’m going to try to drive down later today.”
“Oh. Well all I know is I woke up and nobody is here.”
“Shawna will be there soon.”
“And I knocked out a tooth,” she says accusingly, as though I snuck up behind her and yanked it out with a rusty nutcracker.
This simple exchange feels like grenades going off in my head. My whole body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, but I still kind of want to slap her. How many years have I spent taking her to hospitals and doctors appointments, making sure she’s okay, but the one time I missed a turn…
“I love you mom, I’ll talk to you later.”
Her response was a tortured sigh and her saying she had to go now. A nurse or doctor came in I’m assuming.
But my own little parcel of hell doesn’t lessen, it gets worse. I spend the whole day in bed, and then spend yet another night begging for sleep and relief. My body is exhausted, I’m nauseous and sweating. My brother, the ex-paramedic, is texting me that I might have a blood clot and I need to go to the hospital, which isn’t alarming in any way. Just what a gal wants to hear when her forehead is being used as a dance floor for a thousand super-sized river dancers wearing golf cleats. I don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, speak, think, or move thank you very much.
But hubby sets up an appointment at Urgent care and off we go, me carting my pillow to block out the horrific lights and sounds of sleepy Scotts Valley. The doctor decrees that I probably don’t have a blood clot, which is somewhat comforting, though a more definitive choice of words would have been welcome, ‘probably‘ leaves the door open that maybe, I justmight,possibly have one. That’s how I hear it in the five alarm fire that is my head anyway. He thinks I have a migraine type headache, but not a migraine because I’ve never had one, and he prescribes super mojo painkillers to ‘break’ the pain and sends me home.
I’m never leaving home without those pills again. You can have all the credit cards and fancy cars you want to show off with, I’ll take the pills, thank you. Within a few hours I was mostly headache free. Still limp and barely animated, but sweet relief is in sight.
So, I’m recuperating today. Keep thinking I can do my usual stuff only to wilt like arugula on a bbq within a minute or two. I’ll try to get to LA and mom tomorrow. I still feel badly I didn’t rush to her bedside, but driving requires the use of light and sight, two things I couldn’t pretend to face.
And my mom? She’s home at my sisters house, complaining that she’s bored. She’s back to normal,(translate as level-three hurricane force activity) and insists that we’re being ridiculous for wanting her to take it easy.
Yep, that’s me, the jokester with a first time migraine-slash-maybe,possible bloodclot who needs to get to LA to make sure that her 80 year old mother doesn’t slide down my sister’s stairway railing or drive to Santa Anita to wander around the cherry blossom festival.
She would do it too.
I might still have to get my head examined for clots or even just for hanging off of cliffs, but so far, I’m happy to be able to sit up and eat.
But I still feel guilty.
Lesson learned? Try not to pile shame on top of physical pain and keep your prescriptions within arm’s length.
You are absolutely alone. No one will ever understand you completely. Muhahahahaha. (that’s my evil laugh.)
And that’s just fine.
Because…you are also a part of everything, every molecule in the universe, every other living and non-living thing is made of the same stuff. The next time you feel superior for being human, bear in mind that you and dog poop are, in their basic makeup, the same thing. You have the same ingredients as a magnificent sunset, a nova, a star, a virus, and a slug. All of it is energy, moving spinning atoms, that constantly flow and change. Every time you take a breath, you inhale air that has been produced by trees and circulated through the lungs of the rest of humanity. I once read that the average glass of water has already passed through a human body seven times. Unappetising as that may be, it should remind you that we are all giving and taking every second of our lives, and even in our deaths. Nothing comes from nothing, and no energy ever dies, it’s just redistributed. Sorry royalty, elitists and republicans, life and energy are socialists, it’s our natural state.
Usually I write about how we are all connected, but today I want to talk about being different, unique, and separate, because well, I’m funny that way.
Just as no one person in the world is an entity unto themselves, no two people on earth agree on everything. In fact, we don’t even perceive concepts and ideas in the same way.
Perception of a concept as you absorb it into your brain is like light through a kaleidoscope, color and thought bouncing off of thousands of angles, each of those prisms created by every experience we’ve ever had. Every single person interprets a movie, book, issue, even people, differently. Every time two people read the same book, they write their own, unique version of it. Reading a book is as creative an endeavour as writing it. And no! I am not sharing my royalties! Love you.
Basically, we’re drawing our own cartoon and some are wackier than others. Mine has lots of little blue birds and singing flowers, faeries too, but it hasn’t always been that way. I used to also hear scary music and see danger in the wooly woods. Then I decided I didn’t want to watch that cartoon any more. I wanted to live my life to the happy flute music.
The science behind making that change is miraculous.
Think of it like this. Look at a tree, now close your eyes. Can you see the tree? The answer is yes, but the fact is no. What’s happening is a series of electro-chemical reactions in your brain that aren’t visual at all, but they are recalling that image. The best example I can think of for this is when you and a partner both vehemently remember the same conversation, would swear on your life that you said one thing and he or she said another, and they are equally prepared to die for the cause. It’s a duel to the death, ten paces, turn and fire! Oops, now you’re both dead. That was fun! Maybe we should have decided to go for a coffee and a laugh instead. Just a thought.
Because the irony is that both perceptions are right. Because each person understood the situation, heard the words, and experienced the emotions about it from different point of views.
Now, when an author describes a tree in a book you are reading. Guess what? You see that tree as best you can, based on your personal, individual, and completely unique idea of what any given tree might look like. A kid who lives in a concrete bound urban area might think trees look like something from Dr. Seuss, a logger might immediately think of a pine or a redwood, an islander would immediately picture a palm tree. Is it becoming clear? That’s okay, it never really is.
So why do we get so upset when someone else doesn’t understand us, or sees any issue differently than we do?
A rancorous political campaign truly brings this uniquely human trait to the forefront. Your ‘opinion’ on any candidate or topic is based your filters created by through your specific mindset. Here are a few of those filters.
1, Every piece of information and explanation that’s been rammed into your head since birth. Parents, teachers, books, movies, etc. Some influences will be subtle, say, Mom making a face when someone uses food stamps. And some will be as harsh as a jackhammer breaking concrete, i.e. everyone you know believing in a church and the men who run it telling you there is only one God and one truth and if you don’t embrace that truth you will burn in hell, and funny—these men always know exactly what the truth is! What an amazing coincidence that their ‘truth’ is what someone hammered into their head when they were young. No wonder Jesus called people his ‘flock.’ When it comes to opinions and judging right and wrong, we are sheep, following that lead ram with the bell straight home to the barn, or to the slaughter house.
2, Every criticism or disapproval you have received for voicing any given opinion in any impressionable point of your life, (i.e. all of it) Peer pressure and the people you find yourself surrounded by in school, work, and relationships, basically, anyone whose approval you need or rely on for your self-image. Try telling your fifth grade teacher that it’s rude to do the limp wrist gesture when showing your class a picture of a famous male dancer. The kids threw crabapples at me all day. And, by the way, I met that dancer later, he was anything but gay, with a bevy of legendary, beautiful women lined up in his romantic past. Take that you beehive-headed bitch!
3, Whatever news outlet or information you take in, every conversation you hear. What sources of information do you pursue? Comic books or Time magazine? Fake news shows or the internet? These things shape you, they imprint in your brain and affect you physically as well as emotionally. You probably notice now that if you listen to someone giving an opinion different from yours, your heart speeds up, and you get hot, you don’t want to listen to them! Idiots! Fools! Stupid! It is very difficult to say, ‘Oh, that’s a different way of looking at it,” and not take it in emotionally.
4,How strongly you attach yourself to the emotional need to be ‘right.’ This is ego, and ego is not who you are, it’s what your brain tells you is important and is always external. It is entirely based on how you think others will view you, and as we’re discussing here, you will never know exactly how or what others think. So why do we waste our precious love and time trying to make others see it through our very narrow binoculars?
Ego is the one problem I’ve found we pretty much all need to work on these days. I grew up in the south with republican parents, went to all white schools, and lived in a rarefied world of steadily increasing wealth and privilege, so it was not to surprising that, even though it felt fundamentally wrong to me, I was trained to be anti-immigrent, conditioned to feel deeply wronged that the government took taxes out of my hard earned money and handed it over to those lazy bastards.
Then I moved to LA. There’s a lot in between there, but let’s jump forward. I came to LA with no preconceived prejudices against hispanics for the simple reason that when I was growing up, there wasn’t any hispanic community of note in my suburban Atlanta world. Very quickly, the establishment and general news sources in Southern California had me believing that Mexicans were all violent gang members or welfare users who had dozens of children and fed off ‘the system.’ As a result, I watched youths in white t-shirts with suspicion, resented children going to ‘our’ schools, (how insane is that?) and judged people I knew nothing about.
I didn’t know any Mexican-Americans.
And then I met some and began to see that I was missing as much as a blind person wearing mittens and ear plugs. I remember one day specifically that I found myself standing in the deep end of my own ignorance and sad limitations and realising that I would drown in the bullshit that had been heaped on me. I knew in an instant that I had been paralysed, robbed of my ability to think for myself, to listen to my heart. I was shooting a commercial in a rented house. Verizon, I think it was. And the owners were a lovely young hispanic couple with two beautiful children 5 and 7. I was talking with them, not even thinking about my prejudices, (because when we are prejudice, we don’t know it and certainly won’t admit it) and I asked if they had other kids. The dad said, “Well, you know us Mexicans!” then he laughed, and said, “No, two is all we are having, we’re done.”
My face went hot and red. I was so ashamed to realise that I had this preconceived notion of an entire race of people based on propaganda from my political party and, let’s be honest, rich white people who had made up most of my world.
So I made a concerted effort to make friends with people who were ‘different’ than me. People who were different colors, nationalities, religions, and especially those with different incomes. I believe that money divides us more than anything. I invited hispanics and asians, and minimum wage workers, and every kind of American to my house, my kids played with their kids. This caused my ex a good deal of stress, as he prefered to invest his time in people who had fame or money, or could do something for him, which was one of many red flags. Eventually I left him, because as I eagerly moved to embrace people of quality, he pursued people who had things. Hanging with only the ‘haves’ is just too small a world for me. And so, I left his influence behind as well.
Becoming friends with people who were ‘different’ changed my life. The next leap was working with a charity that helped people who had lost limbs and vision, or might be emaciated by devastating treatments and illnesses. That brought me to another light speed jump in basic comprehension. I stopped feeling sorry for people, because nobody wants your pity!! Every single person is getting through life the best they can, we all have pain, we all have suffering, it just comes in different forms. I used to feel pangs of pain for someone with a limp or a speech impediment, now I admire the hell out of them. I love that their walk is unique, that their voice is the sound of a new instrument. It makes me proud that we humans are so varied.
And last, (last so far, there’s always more,) I gave up organised religion. I believe in an awesome, unifying creative energy, I believe that we are all connected, I believe that if I do bad to someone or something, I do it to myself, because we are all one. How hard is that? What, in God’s name, (snort, get it?) makes me think that I know the truth and everyone else is wrong. Why do I even need to feel that way? The answer, of course, is that we’ve lost our way and we need our group of bullies around us to confirm our anger and our fear and make us feel artificially safe in numbers. It’s great to get with other people for the sake of community and helping improve our world, but it sucks when it’s all about separating us into us and them. That is a lie.
Stop being one of the numbers. You are unique, alone, and part of everything.
I mean, I’m probably wrong about most of this, I look forward to changing my mind…again. Cause baby, I’ve done it many times, and I get happier with every step forward.
Get out there and love. Happiness is who you really are.
I finished a draft of a new book and got it out to my agent this week, now he submits to publishers and we wait. This is always a strange limbo-time for me, when the book is picked up, I will go back to work on edits with the editor, about a six month process on and off. It’s time, I know, to start a new book.I’m not person who can not work or create constantly, but I don’t yet know what that story will be. Right now it’s a fleeting suggestion, a chalky outline, a wild bird without a cage. I think I see it! No, it’s flown too high. There it goes, disappearing into the thick tangle of my mental forest, where tangents shoot out in a thousand directions like tree branches, and vague concepts are still dripping with Spanish moss and the path is overgrown with ferns and lichen. I cannot sneak up on it. I cannot trap it, I can’t even see it clearly yet. No matter how hard I peer and strain, no binoculars will be able to pick that avian idea out and watch it preen until it’s ready to show itself.
What I need is more patience, and I need it right now!!
So, I’m waiting, kind of. I’m waiting even as my brain works, sorting ideas, paying attention to the world around me, watching behaviours, feeling empathy, mixing traits into characters, mentally testing words and scenes. I think of this time as an empty space that needs to be filled. We can fill that time and space with junk and busyness, or we can be zen and keep that brain space open with meditation and different creative endeavours. I try to do both, which is so me.
I have kids, husband and extended family, so a certain amount of my time will always go to their needs. I like that. I love to cook and care for my home, volunteer at school, and plant in the garden, and I’m grateful for a small bit of open time to do those things, but it’s so easy to get overrun with a thousand errands and little activities, that pretty soon your are like a hoarder, with your ‘house’ filled with junk that isn’t of any value. Having a list of things to do, and getting some of them accomplished, gives you purpose, of a sort. But writers, who regulate their own time must be vigilant! It’s far too easy to let your life be hijacked by those week-eaters, those endless tasks, those…we’ll call them mandatory or flippant activities. Some of them are must dos, some of them are fun, and some of them are great little goals, I don’t deny that, but they aren’t what we do.
Like most very active people, I suck at waiting. If I have to stand in line I recite back monologues, or entertain the people who are getting old near me. It gives new meaning to the phrase captive audience, they can laugh at my jokes or leave, which moves me closer to the postal worker. Either way, it’s a win! I have to fill that time and space with thought and laughter, or at least a few isometric butt tucks.
Then there’s that position that sends a thrill through us, when people lose that glazed, I hate my life expression, and perk right up. That, of course, is when you are NEXT. “I’m next!” you start shifting your feet, and feeling special, like a dog who hears the lid of the treat jar. You start salivating, I’m almost there! Sometimes I let someone else go ahead of me so I can still be next.
The best thing about waiting is finding an opportunity to explore. Whether you are exploring an idea, a space, a neighbourhood, or a period of time, there are always options for the curious. Which…I am.
That’s why this floor invited me to skate. Would I slide in my socks? Do I risk a jump or are the lighting fixtures too low? What can I do right now with this space and time?
Anything you want. Dance, hum, make up a limerick, ask someone to tell you something about themselves, relate, share, but most of all…fill it, even if it’s with silence and stillness.
We’ve got this one life this time, never wait, BE.
When someone asks you who you admire, do you choose wisely? If I were to sit you down and ask you to name four archetypes that you try to exemplify in your life, would you have them ready? Would it be a rap star or Mozart? Betty Boop or Venus herself? Saint Francis or Captain Kirk? Each has their own strengths, each has their own meaning that is exclusive to you.
An archetype, in this blog, means a symbol of something bigger, a very typical example of a certain person or trait, or a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology. An archetype can be the underdog, the warrior, the healer, the trickster, the lover, the fool, etc.
Which legends do you relate to? What stories feel true to you? Who are the characters you most admire? When you answer these questions, you learn a lot about yourself, and help strengthen your choices in life. We all need a mirror, and why not choose from the best? Also…and this is important—you can choose.
It’s kind of like shopping for good qualities. Sometimes it’s staples. We need more courage or patience or energy to fill up the bare personality pantry. Other times we’re upgrading to better quality or even more gourmet items. We’re working on tolerance, bliss, playfulness, inner calm, physical strength, anything that will take extra effort and focus. It’s like adding varied, spicier ingredients to our fridge full of ingredients that each of us uses to prepare the smorgasbord that is our lives, words, and actions.
Some common examples of archetypes are based on gods and goddesses, animal spirits, heroes, athletes, even characters in books and movies, as long as they have the basic characteristic you admire and want to strengthen.
Let’s take mine for examples. It’s important to have a balance of male and female, as we all have both energies in us, or we should. Very often certain ‘traits’ are credited to one gender or the other, but not necessarily always along traditional lines, so mix it up.
I try to keep four at a time, this keeps me dancing on my toes with the wind in my hair. They remind me what’s important, what I need to learn, and who I want to be.
Number one archetype for me—at this point in my life—is Athena, Goddess of wisdom, handicrafts and war. This mythogical goddess is patient but strong, very strong. She does not shy from a fight, but she is equally able to make peace, or a beautiful home and fill it with meaning. While I detest war, I have the heart of a warrior, someone who will fight for others. Gets me in trouble, but keeps me honest and with purpose. Most important trait for me to emulate? Patient wisdom.
Number two. Grandfather Shaman, keeper of secrets, wielder of light, maker of magic, he lives in total harmony with nature, and sees all mankind as part of the great whole, one of many creatures sharing the planet and the amazing life force it contains. The Shaman is loving, non-judging, a healer, and comes and goes as he pleases on the material plane. For me, this is the quiet of dawn, the love of twilight, the moment of communion with a wild thing, the acceptance of our role as stewards of our planet. Most important trait? Healing.
Number three. Mab, queen of the Faeries. Once again, a strong leader of both men and women, but intertwined in equal measure with nature and magic. To me, she represents dreams, the awesome power of the feminine, and unbridled passion for all things. Important trait to me? Magic.
Number four. Puck. The little lover of chaos, the imp, the playful sprite, the trickster. he represents the randomness of life, the constant of the unknown, and the joy of letting go. For me, he is acceptance of all things, the ability to laugh at confusion and drama, and just plain happy to be alive. The trait I love most in Puck? Joy in chaos.
So those are my current four. All of my four, you see, come from different cultures and ideologies. Greek, Native American, and two from pre-christian Europe. At different times in my life, I have made different choices depending on my current weaknesses and needs. For instance, for a long time, Mercury (Hermes) was one of my main archetypes because I loved the idea that he connected the Gods with the earth, which to me meant higher consciousness. Some would call it, the will of God, but I always hesitate to use that phrase because, well, there are so many Gods and far too many people who claim to have an exclusive knowledge of what his or her will actually is.
This relating to role models or heroes starts when we’re little. We imagine ourselves to be soldiers or teachers or Tarzan or The Little Princess, or even Bugs Bunny. We find an archetype that resonates with us and it shapes our lives to the degree that we try to bring this energy into our own lives from the pages of books, history, or current day folklore. I cannot tell you how many vines I tried to swing on when I was a tomboy, or how many smart-ass comments came out of my mouth trying to be as funny and witty as Bugs himself. I still love Tarzan and that pesky wabbit.
Having these archetypes doesn’t mean I wrestle lions, hold fertility rites on Midsummer’s Eve or rush into arguments brandishing a short sword, shouting, “Athena, grant me victory!” (But maybe I should try it, it would freak people out so much, I’d probably win.) It does mean that I admire certain characteristics and energies in those legendary figures that I would like to have more of in my life. They are representations of traits that I want to buck up in my own personality arsenal. Tools of learning, loving, and growth.
Often I look to these archetypes when I want to create a new story. What do I want to say? What do I want the reader to leave with? This is why Puck is such a favourite, the little trouble-maker, he shakes things up, makes fools of us all and then makes us laugh at ourselves, all while having an irrepressible good time. Ah, I think he’s my favorite right now.
It is a good thing, I think, when we shore up our bond with nature and myths alike, one reminds us of our true place in the universe, the other exemplifies humanity in all it’s glorious originality. We create these legends, these gods, these spirits, to explain things to ourselves, to put a name to something unknowable—mystery, creation, drive, soul, our world, and life and death themselves.
This is as old as the hills, which used to be the bottom of the ocean. So, while I won’t be wrapping myself in a buffalo cloak and calling down the rain, I will think of my Shaman to remind myself to be patient, that I am a small part of the whole, that each and every thing in our world is connected to each and every thing else. I may not be living in the mists of Avalon, but I can find a world of imagination to share the magic of rain and flowers with children, the same magic that I revelled in when I was young. It reminds me to revel still, and I still do.
So, just for fun, give it some thought. The next time you feel at a loss for a direction, pick up a book of animal spirit guides or Egyptian gods and goddesses and see what clicks. You embody everything, you and your choices shape your personality from mud into marble and inevitably to dust again.
If you were a statue in a museum, a thousand years from now, what would it be?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m the unidentifiable one next to you.
I’m a small statue, a creature really, neither feminine or masculine, young and old, striding forward into whatever may come with a look in my eye that says, “I learned so much, but I lived so much more.”
And slung over my shoulder will be a bag of tricks, smoke bombs or truth bombs or illusions to be shattered, just to shake things up a little bit.
We call them goals. Those things we work toward and sometimes achieve. These ‘goals’ can be benchmark moments, work successes, projects finished, even amount of money made, and they can be good to have, but they are not now. What is now is everything in between, now is life.
I’m thinking about that today because I just finished a first draft on a new book. That doesn’t mean anywhere near done, but it’s a goal reached. I need to give it another day or two before I can go back and edit more because I need some space from it, I need it to be new when I read it again. And I have a movie out, which means some promotion, but though the film is new to viewers, it’s two years old to me. (Yes fledgling filmmakers, it can take that long for post and distribution.)
If you think about it, we’re always between something. School years, relationships, holidays, vacations, meals, moves, birthdays, work projects, and even, or especially, the big one—birth and death. Now, being between doesn’t mean we’re waiting. If you think about it, there isn’t any such thing as waiting, you just are where you are doing what you are doing right now.
Me? I took a wonderful hike along a stream, made breakfast, will spend most of the day catching up on reading for fellow authors that I’ve promised notes to, snuggle with my husband, work in the yard, and right now, I’m talking to you. All of these are things for which I’m grateful, the book is waiting to be read, critiqued, edited, changed, and smoothed, but it is hovering out there, and while it floats, while it waits to be morphed into final form and read, I’m doing something else.
Mostly breathing, which is good.
Someone asked me in an interview recently what I liked specifically about acting and writing. My answer was the same for both—connection. I write to offer others a ride into a world they would never experience, and when someone grabs on and feels the wind in their hair, then I’ve done my job. When I’m on stage and the audience is leaning in, breathing with me, they are sharing the emotions and struggles of my character. It’s magical.
So with a film out and a book pending, I do not rest. Or rather, I gather my strength from nature, family, my husband/lover, the joy of cooking, planting, creating a life of beauty and happiness. Like everyone, I have had times when it was hard to be happy, when there was stress and pressure and people trying hard to tear me down, but they never do. At fifty-five I’ve been through enough crap enough times to know that that will pass. I know now that I will move on to something else, that all my worrying and unhealthy responses do not make the difficult times pass more quickly. All it does is make it seem to take longer, and I’m busy with right now.
When I first moved to LA, I was so broke I couldn’t afford a bed. I slept on a couple of coats piled on a hardwood floor. But everyday, I would take a walk, I would find a flower, even a pretty weed, and take it home and put it in a clear glass bottle that had once contained some fancy soda. I would watch the light through the windows move across the room. I would let the elegant notes of Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughn dance through my apartment, and write, and revel in the time alone. That’s when I first learned to meditate, and that has enriched my life beyond measure.
I may have been between jobs, between friends and relationships even, but I was glad to be there. I remember one day in particular, I went to the grocery store with about twenty bucks for food and started singing along to the music they were playing. An older man joined in, and next thing you knew we were dancing (with our carts no less) in the aisles of Ralph’s. It still brings me joy to remember that moment.
That’s why I’m ecstatic to be here. It leaves me thinking, what adventures come next? What quiet beauty or exchange with someone will I experience today? At what do I choose to look? And more importantly, what do I see within it?
Look for the moon on the water, see the wind tremble the pines, enjoy the mischievous smile on a child’s face while they play, notice someone taking a moment to be kind, strangers conversing, laughing together, take in compassion and love and humour.
You have an infinite number of choices, but really, to be happy, what choice do you have?
What makes us relevant in life? Social media is a funny thing, so many people use it to try create some sense of worth about their ex-careers or their current lives, but it doesn’t really change the fact that if they aren’t— they aren’t. That’s a bit convoluted, so let me explain.
If you had any kind of celebrity, even for a minute, as an athlete, an actor, writer, musician, business owner, then there are most likely people who would listen to what you had to say or look at what you posted for that reason. That kind of interest is superficial and wears off fast, but to continue to be relevant, you have to have something else to offer.
Sure, it’s easy at eighteen to be valued for your looks and your sex appeal, lots of people make a career out of that, then as they age, (and you will too) and they lose their sense of worth. Suddenly they’ve gone from being admired and envied to criticised and shunned. I’ve watched so many people struggle in desperation to try and maintain a level of public interest when they no longer have anything legitimate to offer, and that’s because what they were offering didn’t have true value.
As you age and grow, your priorities must mature and grow. I can’t imagine having the same values I had decades ago. How sad would that be? I’m fifty-five, do I really need people to tell me how sexy I am? (I have a husband who does plenty of that, and that’s great, don’t me wrong, but I don’t need it from anyone else.)
You see, having been on the cover of a magazine, or acted on a TV show that no longer exists, made some people think I had some kind of social relevance. The truth is, those things did nothing to help anyone. They left no mark on the world. I didn’t cure any diseases by getting that attention or showing up on a set. I didn’t feed hungry people, provide shelter to the homeless, nothing. Even when I was doing those things, I wasn’t any more important than anyone else, less so in many cases, but that’s a hard concept to grasp in a country where youth, fame and money have been shoved down your throat as the best things you can ever achieve.
I love beauty. I love art in all forms. Personally, if I see a beautiful woman of any ethnicity, weight or age, I usually make a point to tell her so. Sometimes, they look surprised, but more often, the women I admire have so much more going on than looks that they get it. They have confidence, style, class, intelligence, purpose, and kindness. That is what I find beautiful.
As a writer, my purpose has changed. Thankfully, looks don’t enter into it, so I can return to what I always loved the most, creativity and communication. I strive to find a subject that can help people see themselves and others in a new light. That’s our job as authors, to shine the light on the inside. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and you can’t judge a person by the size of their breasts or the rip of their six pack. I mean, you can, but it says way more about you than it does about the person being judged.
So what makes me relevant now? The fact that I may have something to say, some words of encouragement, good ideas for how to break through a writer’s block, a helpful hint about mothering teenagers, or even a recipe or two, and that only makes me relevant to those who can use those things. I do a good bit of charity work, and if I can make some other people aware then that’s helpful. Unfortunately, for charity to be successful, people have to be in need, and I find that a sad irony. I’d much rather have no charity work to do, if you look at it that way.
Everyday, I try to make a small difference. I take the time to distract the toddler who is on the edge of a tantrum while their parent is trying to get through the shopping. I smile and crack a joke to try to make stressed people smile back, to share something. I pick up trash when I hike, I stop and say hello to the homeless guy who reads in the parking lot where I shop. I bring him some lunch and we discuss books. He has a nerve disease and it’s hard for him to get the words out, but he’s smart and literate, and I know it makes a difference to him that I see him as a person, who has so much to offer.
Because we all do. My question is in what way do you want to be relevant? I can break it down for you. It’s easy. Do you want to be envied or helpful? You can of course, be both, but your intention cannot be split. You can love the art of acting, and want to be successful at it, to elevate everyone involved, that’s helpful! I’m not discounting that but there’s more. When I compare my having acted in a sixty million dollar movie to the importance of the work the oncology doctors I know do, I blush with insignificance. When I see a great teacher getting through to kids enough to inspire a love a learning, I rejoice for that great success.
By all means, pursue your love, act on your passions, take those chances! Whatever you do, do it well. The reward should be that you tried and learned. Leave a trail of smiles and encouragement in your wake. The smartest life choices include all that will make you and those around you truly happy. The hollowest choices are those you make because you think they are what someone else wants. That is a mistake I see happening again and again. It’s a mistake I made again and again.
So why am I relevant now? I’m not, but if I can remind one of you that you really count, or that I am awed by your everyday kindness and patience, then I’m happy, because that’s what I want now. Not to be relevant, but to make you feel that way.
Because you are. There’s always someone prettier, younger, smarter, more talented, or richer, and there always will be.
So here we go, a new novel out tomorrow in stores and on line everywhere!! So I’ve spent many hours on FB and twitter, or addressing postcards or arranging speaking engagements. Of course on Saturday I’ll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena at 4 for the book signing, so, it’s been distracting from my usual routine.
I generally spend about 40 hours a week working, not in a row, of course. I break it up and try to spread it over time that I haven’t reserved for my family. Sometimes I can actually get in 6-8 straight hours, but other times it’s two hours before I go to bed, three hours before everyone else gets up, or, like now, forty-five minutes over a quickly snagged burrito while I’m out buying detergent and other important things for family, like…oh, I don’t know…food.
Meanwhile, my next book, isn’t receiving the necessary time and concentration and is therefore resisting my efforts to keep it progressing steadily.
But writers, let’s be honest. Unless you are a super freak or an automaton, you don’t sit down everyday and write forward 4 to 12 pages. You squiggle around a bit, start a character but aren’t totally sure who they are or what they’ll say yet. You have a basic story line idea, or plot layout, but in truth you’re not working from a blueprint or IKEA instructions, (which to be fair require special tools and a keen understanding of fourth dimensional math.) Writing requires time just thinking, doodling concepts and character traits on napkins, watching people behave badly at the grocery store, talking to the homeless guy reading novels on a bus bench, (to be fair, my homeless reader-friend prefers, ‘domestically challenged’) even screaming at the moon to inspire you.
The book, the idea, and your thoughts about it are incomplete. And no amount of forcing words into the computer will congeal it into one of those pretty molds with sliced fruit suspended in a cake-shaped gelatinous mass.
That’s why I love editing, especially with a great editor. The basic form is already there and all you have to do is fluff, like a designer backstage at a fashion show. The main work is done, just a tug at the hem, a twist of a scarf, and you can shove that creation out onto the stage.
As much as I love writing and the books I’ve produced, I have a major problem with promoting them, and here’s why—besides making me feel vaguely braggadocios, (Mom, mom, mom, watch me, watch me!) getting myself out there involves makeup and an attempt at coordinated clothing, even possibly, god-forbid—high heals. Three things I’m able to avoid on a daily basis for months while I’m writing.
One of the big problems with being a writer is that people assume you are available at the drop of a hat, you are not ‘working’ at a job, so you must be able to go to lunch, answer their emails within seconds, take care of their kids when they are busy, and chat for hours on the phone.
Wrong. I’m not a chatter, I turn off my wifi when I work, I love your kids and will take them to the space center when I can take an afternoon off, and if I eat, it will be on the run. My family has learned that they may interrupt me when I’m writing, but I reserve the right to say “Not now.” (One major exception was when my 8 year old daughter put on her Sailor Moon costume, complete with star-wand and stood next to me saying, “But mommy, I want you to come help me save the world.” I mean, come on, I had to go. The future of the planet was at stake.) My friends—who aren’t writers—don’t get it.
And then a book comes out and everyone says, “Oh, you’re so busy, you have so much going on!” Not really. I’m busier when I’m home trying to focus on my story plot in my torn T-shirt with unwashed hair while simultaneously trying to keep a decent house, do the gardening, prepare delicious meals, and spend time with my husband and my daughters.
So when you think of my recent ‘success’ remember this mental picture of me at home, moving cats off my keyboard, jumping up to check the laundry, the crock pot, the sprinklers. It might not seem as glamorous as speaking in front of a group of people wearing a nice skirt and blouse holding my shiny new hardcover, but it’s the bulk of my life, and frankly I prefer it.
Because, while I appreciate and am eternally grateful for the friends and readers who say lovely things on line, re-tweet my good reviews, and actually take the time to come out and support me… what I really want to do is write.