Tag Archive | learning

Learning to Fall

 

IMG_1952

When life knocks you down, try to land somewhere soft.

Recently, one of my most talented and positive friends asked on Facebook, “How do you reset when you are blue and stressed?” Wow, great question and there were many wise and humorous suggestions posted, most of them featured nature, music, or watching other people make fools of themselves, but I couldn’t help wondering if the better question would be “How do I keep myself from becoming blue and stressed?”

Which shows both my naiveté and a severe drop of IQ, probably due to early drug abuse combined with late menopausal symptoms, because the glaring truth of course is that you can’t. Anxiety, sadness, stress and frustration are all quite normal parts of being human and alive both at once.

You can try a few things; blunting, transference, isolation and alienation, but that doesn’t feel like much fun either, and ultimately, all of those things will only make you feel worse not to mention pretty much universally despised, which will make you angrier and more afraid which will make you stressed and anxious and well, we’re right back where we started, only deeper. That hasn’t stopped me from trying them all!

It’s the carnival ride of the insane. Climbing on the dark carousel of avoidance is a morose and discordant experience where the only appropriate exclamation is a wheezing gasp of despair. Nobody, and I mean nobody shouts, “Wheee!” when that funride gets up to speed. But we all seem incapable of avoiding being sucked into the line along with the rest of the crowd every once in a while.

In fact, the only people who don’t have a ticket to that not-so-merry-go-round is a true psychopath, and frankly a life without compassion, empathy and remorse is not a life worth living, so be grateful when you can recognize that the ticket in your hand was paid for by the yearning for unconsciousness and go get it punched in another part of the park. Oh look, over there, I can crawl into a cage and be the attraction for a bit, or see the circus freaks by entering the house of mirrors. It might be hard to keep your eyes open but at least you got the hell off the round-about and are moving in some direction, it might be down, but eventually it will lead to up.

So now that we’ve established that shit happens, we have to face it. And that’s where falling comes in, and here’s my advice.

Tuck and roll.

You might not spring back to your feet, you might lay on the ground moaning for a while— a lateral move to self-pity can be quite liberating actually, I personally recommend blaming everyone else from a hot bath from a view through amber whiskey in cut crystal—you might scream for mercy or smash crockery in a rage, you may stare at a blank wall and confess that you are nothing, less than worthless and there’s no hope for a bit, but believe it or not, those are all good. Well…better than pretending that life is a fairyland of sprouting wildflowers and gentle summer days. Because baby, I’m here to tell you, rain will fall and your best option is to dance in it, cry in it, rail at it, but damn it, get soaking wet. It’s the only way back out.

Now, wallowing is fine for a while, still you wouldn’t want to live there.

I was a competitive ice skater and falling was something I did several hundred times a day. You can actually get good at it, and you’ll never improve if you don’t do it, so suck it up and get bruised every once in a while.

It’s fascinating to me that science and experience are now showing me that we learn our responses to stimuli, like, say…your mom’s disappointed face, or your classmates mocking you, or a scary man yelling at you. Our brain actually memorises a chemical pattern that cannot be broken with logic, reason, or even intense self-examination and realisation. When the lady at the store twists up her little puckered mouth in judgement, those chemicals remember your mom’s criticism and start an instant chain of chemicals firing that affect a physical sensation your body and brain have diligently rehearsed. There is a perfectly good physiological reason for this: self-protection. When we are in fear or danger, we have responses that are necessary to our survival, but the odds are that someone attacking your political views on facebook don’t immediately threaten your life. (Okay, idiots who defend automatic guns and greed-fueled health care systems actually do endanger us all in the long run, but I’m talking about right now.) None-the-less, the reaction is the same in us. Trouble is, we don’t have any use for all that adrenaline and fear response so we can’t express or expel it.

And so, our hands shake, our head hurts, our hearts race, our stomachs churn with acid, and we generally feel like crap.

Which is not fun but it is unavoidable. We can’t help it, it’s what our amazing bodies learned to do to protect us. And those things are there to help us when we really need them. We can’t stop them from happening, nor would we really want to if you think about it. Should you stick your hand in a fire? Probably not, your brain tells you. When a car swerves into you lane, your adrenaline fires, time slows down, and you respond without even thinking to brake and avoid a collision. These responses are good and they are our friends.

But what about when they aren’t wanted or necessary?

Tuck and roll baby, tuck and roll. The chemical hit (anxiety, palpitation, increased blood pressure and the inevitable come down, i.e. sadness and depression) will still come, and all we can do it take the punch, lick the wounds and learn to let it go more quickly.

Best thing you can do, I think, is recognize that it’s happening. Identify where in your body it’s affecting you, and then change it up when you can.

That’s why nature helps so much, why the calming energy soothes us, especially water for most people, because the brain releases serotonin when your eyes gaze out over the ripples of a lake. That’s why music switches on a different reaction the strain cause oxytocin levels to surge. That’s why dancing and laughing stir a healthy dose of dopamine into the mix, exercise releases endorphins and that counteracts the overdose of other nasty chemical excretions that we unwittingly shot up with when we were triggered by the fear of loss of even very real exposure.

Aren’t I smart? Aren’t I so very capable of understanding and dealing with all of life and it’s many challenges? Aren’t I a ball of calm and light?

Oh HELL no! (Just ask hubby, he’ll be glad to tell you when he stops laughing.) What I have gotten better at is explaining it all to myself, that doesn’t mean I don’t weep in the back of the closet or wrap myself in a shell of bitterness or occasionally declare that I need nobody and nothing and I’ll show them…!

Oh yeah, living hurts sometimes like going over the handlebars a mountain bike downhill in rough gravel, which, I have done, recently.

But it’s nice to know that no matter how depressed I get, if I put a stupid, forced smile on my face and march around like an idiot clown on bungy cord springs singing “La la la la” in a ridiculously high voice I can actually change my chemistry! Works every time, at least a little bit, and sometimes when I’m desperate and beat all to hell I’ll take whatever I can get.

Tuck and roll baby.

The best thing I’ve found to make a permanent change is tapping, a process that can actually break and retrain those memorised chemical pathways and thought patterns but that’s for another day. I do recommend you look it up. Go on youtube and try a led session. It works. They use it for PTSD patients.

Meanwhile, drag your falling ass up off the carpet and look out the window at anything green. Smell some lavender, listen to Mozart or rap or whatever lifts your heart, and for Goddess’ sake laugh. Even if it’s not funny, even if there’s nothing to laugh at, even if it’s more-fake-than-bad-acting laughing, laugh. It will change the lethal mix of excretions and thought patterns that bludgeon you into an emotional pulp on a daily basis. It will smooth the ride through the Waring blender of life.

And then…share it with someone else.

Because they are hurting too.

We all do.

That’s okay.

Tuck and roll, baby.

Tuck and roll.

 

Shari, from Ireland, August 15th, 2018

And Now, for Some Fun Stuff.

IMG_0716

the good ol’ days of less stuff

With both girls off to college, my husband and I decided we would live a simpler life with less to worry about and care for. It came to this. We had too much stuff and it was weighing us down, anchoring us to one place and we wanted to lift off, to fly, to travel and soar. So we started the process. We sold or gave away everything we thought we could part with, including our home of 14 years. Even with the cleansing, we had quite a bit left, so we piled almost all of that stuff into two storage pods the size of semis, and bought a 38 ft trailer. For the trailer adventure, we took very little stuff, a half-dozen of our favorite small works of art, a handful of rare books, some kitchen basics, a silver champagne bucket and candelabra, (just the bare necessities) a scrabble set, and roughly enough winter clothes to fill a medium-sized suitcase, hooked the camper onto the back of his truck, and headed north. The only thing I was afraid I would really miss from our stuff were our fireplaces, so hubby installed a tiny wood stove in the camper.

After the months of stress involved with selling a house, packing up a life, and getting a house, guest house, pool and ten acres perfect for the new owner, on January 8, 2017, we finally pulled away from Angeles National Forest, drove up above Ojai, pulled into our first campsite and hunkered down. I woke up the next morning to the sound of a babbling stream and rain on the roof and knew we had made the right choice. We spent a couple of weeks there then moved on to another stunning place. Wherever we landed, every night we would make a fire in our tiny wood stove, and listen to the rain or the ocean, or the wind in the trees. Everyday we would explore, delighting in beauty and learning a little more about our new way of life—including the fact that very few RV parks take 38 ft campers. At every campsite women would ask to see the wood stove after seeing the smoke rise from the tiny chimney and then glare at their husbands because they didn’t have one, so that was fun.

After a few months, we landed in Santa Cruz, parked under towering redwoods overlooking a river, survived a flood, and started looking for houses. We found one that was listed as a tear down, bought it for an unbelievable low price, (thanks hubby!) and he went to work. In the meantime summer was almost here and campsites get crowded and surprisingly expensive in this gorgeous part of the world, so we rented an apartment on the ocean and even though it was only a small one bedroom I had to buy some furniture basics and expand my wardrobe from four sweaters and jeans to some additional, more seasonally appropriate clothes. We acquired almost all of our new belongings from reuse places or thrift stores. It’s more fun to find treasures, or rentals, as I thought of it, because all of these new things were temporary. Remember now, we have two semi’s packed with our real stuff somewhere in the nether-regions of the greater Los Angeles area. We don’t actually know exactly where of course, but they (the people who recieve our monthly checks) assure us that it’s somewhere out there. I have this mental image of a place not unlike the last scene in “Raiders of the Lost Arc” filled with people’s stuff that they will pay more to store than it’s worth by the time they retrieve it.

Then, since she was done with college, our daughter moved out of the house she had rented with four other girls and since she didn’t have a new place to put it, we reabsorbed the stuff she had gotten from us to furnish it. So now we had her stuff, most of which went into the trailer for storage which was now also in storage. (another monthly check, but I know where the trailer is at least) Joseph is amazingly gifted with both vision and endurance when it comes to building pretty much anything, so within a few months we were able to leave the one bedroom apartment and move into the two bedroom, two bath house on the San Lorenzo river that he had taken from crumbling to dust to jewel box, (thanks honey!) so of course I had to buy more stuff. At first I only gathered what we needed to make ourselves and our girls comfortable, but when we decided to sell, my intrepid friend Michelle—she of impeccable taste—showed up to help us ‘stage’ the house.

Boom. Those guys in the cute brown shorts started delivering more stuff. Matching armchairs, rugs, lamps, side-tables, throw pillows, coffee table books, vases, candle holders, dining room table, chairs, all chosen and purchased late at night after a bottle of wine or on furious shopping sprees. Michelle and I whipped through Ross’s, Marshall’s, Home Depot, and every antique shop in Santa Cruz county. In three days, she had that place thrown together and I had a house full of new stuff.

The house sold, we did very well, (thanks honey!) quadrupling our money, (quadruple is a verb, right?) decided to rent for a while so as not to be rushed into buying something we didn’t love. I chose a three bedroom home with a huge living area, two fireplaces, two big decks on a creek, and a large yard.

Initially the plan was to have those storage pods delivered and unload and use our old stuff, but we quickly realized that we didn’t have room for that much stuff, so we’d have to get just enough more stuff to have enough stuff for this house. So I bought more stuff. Now I have a house full of stuff here, and two gigantic storage pods holding another house full of stuff, and a trailer in storage with more stuff.

For someone who was ready to live a much less material life, I sure do have a lot of stuff. Now, I have a year to stay put. I’m so excited to have the time and peace to write again, I hope I remember how. Before that year is up, we’ll be looking for other houses, one to flip over and one to flop into. After having done it four times within a year and a half, I can tell you with great confidence that moving is a crapload of work, especially if you have a lot of stuff.

Which I did.

Then I didn’t.

And now I do.

More than ever.

I’m not sure where we’ll land but I’ll tell you this, I’m gonna’ need a bigger house.

Or an even bigger garage sale.

Because I am not keeping all this stuff.

 

Shari, May 30th, 2018

Just for You.

IMG_5518

My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

Categorically Wrong Again.

fun one

Just a few words.

Whenever someone finds out I’m a writer, (because I tell them) their first question is always, “What do you write?” by which they mean, ‘what genre?’

How do I sum up my work in a word? I wish someone would tell me. If you’ve read “Invisible Ellen” you’ll know why. It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s fable, it’s reality, it’s socially conscious, it has story and it’s character driven, and while it’s primarily about two women, it’s not ‘women’s fiction’ perish the narrow-minded dismissal! I understand why people ask, they may prefer cozy mysteries or violent thrillers and are jonesing for their next hit, but I can’ t help them there.

Well, I could. it might be much easier for me to stick to a genre, write the same kind of book again and again. For publishers, it’s easier for them to button hole a writer into a small, easily promotable group. But the entire idea that anyone’s entire body of work can be filed under one word is lamentable. Not to say that writers like Rex Stout aren’t masters of their genre, practically creators of their own library sections, but that is because their work is so complex and compelling to start with, they are anything but simple.

Full disclosure, I have written books based on a label by contractual agreement. In fact after my first book “Loaded” was purchased, the publisher ordered two more books described thus: “Mystery thriller with a romantic entanglement.” So…at least that was two labels in one. I always bucked the identity of ‘romance writer’ not because I don’t love a good romance as much as the next red-blooded, sex-crazed female with a penchant for tactile mental imagery and the well-described monkey noises that accompany them, but because I know so many writers who write romance so much more deliberately and, frankly, so much better than I do. Romance is just not my passion, if you’ll forgive the awkward juxtaposition of nouns.

Which sends me spinning off on one of my tangents; I do this a lot. I’m just cruising along on a big merry-go-round of topical reasoning when something suddenly snags my mind’s eye, I lose my grip on the painted pony of focus, and the centrifugal force slings my thought process into free flight, tumbling my head over my ass off into another part of the zoo. I might return to my original point but I might also spend the rest of the essay admiring the zebras, sorry.

Anywho…speaking of herd animals, isn’t it a relief to sometimes be one? I mean, to just say, “Yeah, I’m not even going to try to lead the pack in this field, So-and-so is so brilliant at it that I might as well not bother.” Giving up on the aspiration to do something or be something you respect and admire is sort of life’s version of screaming “Uncle!” while simultaneously enjoying the experience of having your arm folded up your back like a dislocated chicken wing. There are so many amazing vocations that I would love to conquer, like painting, or astrophysics, but—even making the wild assumption that I had the talent and propensity—without at least one more lifetime of devotion to the cause, I’m not likely to give Monet or Neil deGrasse Tyson a run for their money. Therefore, I content myself with gazing covetously at the transformation of pigment into emotional impact, and listen with rapt reverence to the simplified explanations of a superior intellect.

Not everything. Never give up on everything. Keep something, I say. Find a couple of things you love and even if you stink, you will find fulfillment in the doing if not the adulation that may never come. There’s a lesson in that, is it the proficiency or the laurels you crave? Do you want to act or do you want to be famous? Those are two very different goals, and it is the latter inclination that makes an artist. But then, you never know, maybe your first novel will be ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ I mean, hey, you never know until you try.

Meanwhile, let me climb back onto the carousel of my original thought process here. Why do we feel the need to pigeon-hole everyone and every thing? Okay, maybe it works for some things, like B movies and restaurant types, if I feel like pasta I won’t go to a BBQ pit, but people and creativity? That’s just nuts.

Because I don’t want to be chained to any one thing. If I do something for a while and it works for me but I weary of it, I’ll move on. I’ll write books on topics and characters that interest me, I just don’t have the time and energy for a project that isn’t worth six months to a year of my life.

And here’s something I’ve found out not from writing, but from reading. The books I love the most, the ‘break-out’ books, are almost always true originals, impossible to stuff into a cubby-hole with a computer-printed genre-label gorilla glued on the cover.

Screw that. There are true examples that fit any given description, but there is no description that is true about every example. White people aren’t all racist. Politicians aren’t all crooked, (well, a few aren’t!) Blonde women aren’t all vapid. Not every athlete is a bad student. Some mysteries are magical. Some dancers are clumsy. Good people die. Bad people do kind things sometimes.

Life, like literature, is a whirlwind of variety, constructs that grow or crumble, even things we build on foundations that can be washed away in the worst of a storm. If you look at the sum of someone’s work like a house they are putting on the market, before you buy, you need to see more than the real estate agent’s brochure. And while it takes extra time and energy to walk all the way around and through a house, judging the structure by the curb appeal alone leaves you ignorant of the floor plan and no understanding at all of the possible lives and loves that would be constantly changing inside. And don’t forget that everyone has the potential, at any time, to redecorate and redefine.

So…if anyone can help me with a quick phrase to sum up ‘what I write’ please, I’m begging you, I’m down on my scrubby knees chanting for clarity. Share it! As far as summing up my life and divergent personality in a simple adjective, give it up. It can’t be done. Not by me, or you, or anyone. Not about me, and not about anyone else. There is always more, layers on layers, basements and attics and add-ons, carpeting over hardwood floors, recessed lighting with a couple of bulbs burned out, a backyard filled with weeds on one side and a garden on the other. You can choose to live in a mid-century modern, mission style, or Victorian. You can occupy living rooms, bedrooms, tiled kitchens, and even spend time completely away from that home, possibly in the occasional muddy camp-site. Hey, I’ve done a bit of wallowing, every one occasionally makes a lateral move to our lower selves, so wipe that gunk out of your eyes and follow me to the showers.

But for heaven’s sake, stop limiting your vision, there is so much more to see.

If you want to change, do it! But be ready for resistance.

Because people don’t like it when you change.

It’s easier for them if you stay the same.

And nobody does.

So grow.

Dare.

Be all that you are.

Some one will read it.

 

Shari, November 7th, 2017

 

 

 

The Fowl Revolution

IMG_6089.JPG

General T stalks the evil beast

 

For the last couple years, every time I visited a certain area of my daughter’s campus, my car was attacked by a turkey. He was an angry, brave little dude, darting fearlessly into the street and pecking ruthlessly at the tires on a mysterious mission that we may never fully understand.

This local wild turkey had for some reason decided that he had had enough of these fools overwhelming his homeland. The many students hurrying to class or studying on the lawns of the nearby library had grown accustomed to the aggressive fowl, barely taking notice as cars seeking shelter in the nearby parking lot were forced into gridlock when confronted by the university’s very own, and very real, angry bird. He comes out charging, head down, feathers slightly ruffled so that his stunted wings looked more like spoilers on a coupe, as he fearlessly holds his own against two ton hunks of motorized metal. He was almost as persistent as the metered-parking enforcers that lurk amongst the trees wielding citation pads. Almost.

And now, after a good year or two of breeding and gene transference there are no less than eight attack turkeys. General T has taught his family well. An avian army is mustering. One has to wonder what’s in store for these rebels as they continue to reproduce, passing on the DNA of aggression to the next year’s generation. What will it be like over at the Engineering department next year, or even a decade from now? I envision students and faculty in shin guards, riding in armored campus buses, or hurrying fearfully between buildings and lecture halls while turkeys with bandana covered faces chant, “Humans will not replace us!” while brandishing pine cones and twigs in a menacing manner.

Hey, I don’t blame the birds for their random acts of violence. They live all summer, as they have for thousands of years, in this pristine forest filled with redwoods and ferns, and all of a sudden here come seventeen thousand humans in the fall, reeking of tea tree oil shampoo and melon scented deodorant, their limbs are stained with ink pictographs, they carry noise makers and are draped in brightly colored costumes that clash mightily with the environment. Come on, you can almost hear General T saying, get it together dude, unless it’s mating season your plumage is supposed to blend in! Camouflage, hello? Stealth? And what right do they have to bring these nasty, greedy, black-smoke-belching predators right though our ancient breeding ground! They don’t even eat what they kill. Forest Justice for all poultry!

It is, after all, an institute of learning known for activism. Just ask my Republican family, they’ll snort derisively and snidely imply with a condescending tone of voice that it’s a hippy school. Never mind that this University produces more top scientists, biologists, astrophysicists, and business leaders than Harvard, nevermind that it’s an academic education that far exceeds their own, it’s in Northern California, and to my republican siblings and parents that means the dirtiest of dirty words. Liberal. It’s the one word with no S’s that they can still hiss. Three syllables that make their ears bleed, not unlike what they think of my heart. The very idea of learning to evolve as a species seems to scare the hell out of them. So those turkeys would feature in their worst conservative nightmares, no doubt causing them to wake up sweating, trembling and gobbling, “Fowl!” Before they turn on their Tiffany’s bedside light and start muttering, “Why can’t those damn turkeys go to their own segregated college like God intended. Next thing you know, women will be allowed to play professional golf with men! This country is going to hell. God Damn liberalsssssss.”

What would they think of that one damn indigenous bird fighting for his turkey rights? “Who the hell does he think he is objecting to having his world paved over? Damn turkeys should be grateful to be smushed into American pavement! It would be an honor for him to be eviscerated and stuffed full of stale bread in our country!” Friggen’ wild turkeys stealing jobs from our factory farms!”

Okay, my family isn’t quite that bad, but it’s fun to poke back at them when they laugh at me for not believing I’m as entitled as they are, and I can’t really think of a nicer way to put that. I deleted quite a few other versions of that sentence.

When you send your kids to college, you never know what added benefits will come from that higher education. This is one time that trickle down is actually a factor. I consider my new knowledge of Meleagrididae, of the genus Meagridea, (aka common wild turkey) worth the tuition. I was also horrified to discover, while doing research for this very scientific blog, that the third most asked question about this bird is sadly this, “Is the country of Turkey named after the bird?” Yep, higher education is pretty desperately needed right here, right now, in this country. “We’re number one because one is higher than two!” I can just imagine these uneducated citizens chanting. I’m guessing those same people think the Ottoman Empire is the name of a furniture factory. The Ottoman Empire, by the way, is also commonly known as the Turkish Empire and they invaded Europe around 1354. Maybe this current day college turkey has transcontinental empires on his tiny brain too. It would explain the antagonistic tendencies and the increase in his military.

A few other fun facts; Did you know a very young turkey is called a poult? I guess the birds who live on this campus earn their ‘RY’ when they complete their degree, or reach eating age. It’s a title they are granted at commencement. Theresa Poult, RY. Major in delicious with a minor in entomology. Or did you know that turkeys eat small animals? Who knew your holiday bird could be fattened up with slugs and rats? The knowledge you can acquire at a top-rated University for half a million dollars is really pretty amazing.

So moving on; since we have now learned that turkeys will eat meat, do you think those turkeys will attack a vegan on campus as decisively as a meat eater? Do they discriminate? Do they prefer the taste of cannabis-smoked freshmen to beer-poached sophemores? Does wild muscadine grape pair well with organic graduate students?

I’m being silly, I know, but evolution is a funny thing. And there is a strange parallel here. Creatures learn to adapt in order to survive, our kids learn for pretty much the same reason. I wonder if those turkey chicks pulled-all nighters memorizing the strike zone on Volvo tires. I imagine the extra credit question on their finals; “Which area is most likely to puncture through the inner tube? Draw a diagram of the layers of steel belted radials and a short essay explaining the pros and cons of attacking a whitewall.”

That first attack turkey, General T, sent his chicks off to scratch out a living and fight the man in spite of all the scary changes to his world. We send our kids off to college to learn to deal with authority, scary real life, and apparently, uh…turkeys?

You never know what you’ll have to deal with in life, but one thing I think I can promise you is that if you educate yourself about it, you’ll do much better—and be far more entertained—than if you remain ignorant. So let me close with some fun facts to know and share.

The country of Turkey was not named after the bird.

Ottoman is not the name of a low, upholstered stool.

Education is not your enemy.

Look it up.

You have a dictionary in your hand.

Learn something.

Evolve.

Or be devoured by wild turkeys.

Poultry justice!

Life is full of funny choices.

 

 

Shari, October 18th, 2017

 

The Courage of Kindness

img_0674-1

The longer I live, the more I realize that only two things really count, Kindness and Courage. Frame it anyway you want to, if you just make those two character traits something you give a fuck about, it will change the world around you.

Take today. We had to move our thirty-seven foot trailer across the RV park to a spot for long term use. While this isn’t storming the beach at Normandy, (deep respect for those who face real danger every day) it is still daunting when you’ve only had a chance or two to figure out how to turn a 90 degree corner while backing downhill into a space with giant redwood trees on both sides. Everyone has been very nice about our fledgling attempts, “You just need practice!” they say reassuringly. To which I reply, “But where can you practice?” Unless you have a grocery store parking lot to yourself for a few days, the only ‘practice’ you are going to get is doing. Oh, did I mention it was raining and hailing? Just a little plus.

My husband and I are pretty good at taking on challenges. We adjust, we study, we learn, we are generally not afraid of much in the realm of trying new things. On the flip side, we try to be helpful whenever we can, and both of us have taken on mentoring younger people in our respective fields and we’ve been able to pass on some amount of confidence to others, generally we try to be helpful, we make it a goal to be part of the solution and not the problem, we act brave even when we are afraid, and we try to work from a genuine place of eagerness to be of service. I have no fear of not having done enough, for us or for others. Yet there is this one overwhelming fear I have yet to conquer.

I’m terrified that we will crush someone else’s dream.

It’s not us I’m concerned about. We’ll be fine. We’ve had plenty and we’ve had less, and we’ve been happy with both. We’ve worked through messy family situations, divorces, our own insecurities, (that last one’s ongoing of course.) but, just like the time we rented a 50 foot twin engine boat and went cruising around the coast of Washington and Canada without a single day’s working knowledge of boat operation, I was afraid that we would make a mistake that would cost some innocent bystander their life’s savings. Every time we had to park (sorry, dock) that massive, multi-ton twin-screw ship, I couldn’t help but worry that one mistake could literally sink some really nice people’s retirement dream.

I would see them, these gracious retirees relaxing on the back decks of their lovely boats with names like ‘The Serenity’ or ‘Seafoam Two’. A glass of wine in one hand, they would watch us with growing concern as we clumsily made our way through the port slips. By the time we were finally at our slip, about six to eight of them would have surrendered their cocktail time and come to stand by, ready, holding ropes, shouting advice to my dry mouthed husband as he tried to back into the space. Yep, back in.

After our second such foray, once we had thanked everyone profusely, offered bottles of wine as consolatory thank yous, and gone back inside I turned to Joseph and said, “That was distinctly not fun! This is supposed to be fun, I’m on vacation!” So we found a captain who teaches boating, and Joseph took a half-day lesson. After that we could dock without having to face the blank horror of encroaching doom on the faces of Memaw and Papa.

Then we decided to anchor off an island, which means drop an anchor and run a line to a tie-off on the shore, like, say a tree. What we didn’t know is that the ropes they had given us with the rental boat did not float like they are supposed to do. They sank. So while we were jockeying around in the bay, the ropes got twisted tightly around the propeller. Now we are in near freezing water off the coast of Alaska, but God bless my hubby, he strips down, puts a kitchen knife in his teeth and dives in. Okay, first he hid the boat engine keys just for his own piece of mind because if I had started the engine, he would have been sliced to pieces. So there he is struggling under the boat, coming up for gasps of air and clearly not having an easy time of it. I see the lady in the only other boat, which was anchored about thirty yards away, very quietly get into her dingy, and row over. When she was close, she just sat there and waited. Ready to help if Joseph got in any trouble.

So kind, and we have tried to do the same in return every chance that comes before us. Sometimes all we do is stand by, ready to help if needed, sometimes we chip in and help tow the line, figuratively or literally.

And here’s the deal, we’ve learned one, very important thing.

Ask for help when you need it.

You won’t always get it, but on this trip, it’s been fairly remarkable how great people are. People with lifetimes of experience and knowledge that you don’t have and are willing to share it.

Take Jay. He’s the manager/owner at the RV camp where we are now huddled down for three months. The other night, someone who was supposed to arrive had a breakdown on the freeway off ramp. They called to let Jay know that they would be arriving late, that they had a tow coming for their truck but they would have to leave the trailer by the highway until the pickup was fixed. So Jay got his ass out of bed at 4 a.m. took his truck, picked up their trailer, and had it in place by the time the unlucky campers finally got their repairs done.

During the recent flooding here in Santa Cruz, Joseph and I went to the fire department, Sheriff’s office, and two churches trying to find somewhere to volunteer and help out with anything from sand bagging to bringing food to evacuation centers. The response at each place was the same, they were guarded, then surprised, and finally grateful, but they had it pretty well covered, being used to this sort of weather every seven or eight years. So we left our number and went to breakfast.

It was weird not be able to help out. That’s just something we do, it doesn’t require thought or decision for us, we are part of a whole, a community, and while we are in it, we will try to make it a better place. Some people think you need a church, or an organization of some kind to work through, and, while group assistance is great for big disasters you can help others with any small thing that comes your way. It isn’t religious, it isn’t noble, it does not require godly approval, it’s just human.

So when we knew that our inexperience with camper relocation could damage some very old trees not to mention someone else’s mansion on wheels, we turned to Jay. He’s kind of a scary dude. Six-five, I’d say, white hair and perfect goatee, looks a lot like the quiet yet dangerous member of a biker gang. But we bucked up our courage and asked. He quietly got up from his desk, put on his coat, climbed into the driver’s seat of our pickup, and whipped that massive hunk of metal, wood, furniture, everything including the kitchen sink, into it’s exact position. One of his workers stood by as pilot and the job was done in five minutes, to within an inch of where he wanted to put it. Even the squirrels were impressed, but they chittered insults and mockery at us. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were doing, anyway, they were definitely hurling something, possibly redwood cones.

Best of all, Joseph and I watched what Jay did, and though we might not be able to do it now, we at least have some idea of the geometry of it. We learned.

That was kind. That was brave. Jay is one of many who are really good at something we are not, and was willing to share his experience and expertise even with the risk involved in handling someone else’s property. That is both kind and courageous.

What a difference it made, to us, to the people around us, and hopefully to Jay. We were sincerely awed by his ability, and he was no doubt relieved to end the day without bodily injury or a lawsuit.

Are you brave? Help someone else.

Are you afraid? Ask for help.

Are you afraid and there is no one to help?

Act brave, it might just get you through it.

Even if the squirrels do laugh at you.

 

With deep gratitude.

 

Shari, March 6th, 2017

 

 

Surviving a Virtual Sh*t Storm

img_0011-1

Fill those glasses, trouble’s a’ brewing!

 

We’re into our second month of traveling trailer life, and for us newbies, it’s been a challenge, to say the least. Joseph and I are veterans at handling household emergencies ranging from forest fires and mud slides to living without heat or water for months at a time post those natural disasters. Standing outside in the back yard slinging buckets of warm water from the hot tub over ourselves to wet, lather, and rinse is doable, but I can’t say I felt particularly glamorous. At least we didn’t have neighbors to shock, but I think the forest service helicopter pilots got an eyeful once or twice. (I noticed they came back around a couple of times.) None-the-less, this living in a 36 ft trailer that rocks every time Joseph rolls over in bed and I wake up sure that it’s ‘the big one’ is all new to us. Sitting up fast in limited space can be hazardous to your skull shape as well.

Of course, like the champ he is, hubby has been learning and handling things as we go while I adjust to cooking in ten square feet, only getting a hot shower at some campgrounds that offer them, and condensation that drips down the walls so moistly (is that a word?) that I can’t leave so much as a throw pillow up against the bedhead lest our trailer becomes a mushroom farm. Fungus and furnaces aside, I’m pretty damn proud of us. Most people we told about our adventure had one of two reactions. Awe and jealousy, “I’ve always wanted to do that! “ or “How exciting!”Or the opposing counsel of, “Your marriage will never survive it.”

We call that second group amateurs. Living in a tiny trailer surrounded by giant redwoods or with the ocean lulling you to sleep at night is not what we consider hardship. Sure, every few days one or the other of us gets uptight and cranky from lack of privacy, but we know that routine from traveling together for months at a time. A half day on our own and we’re excited to share with the other what we discovered while we were apart. We both know the warning signs well enough to burrow in silently with a book or head for the hills when a question like “Where is that property we’re going to see?” is answered with a snappy, “I don’t know. I didn’t memorise the address.”

Red flags like oh, say, me condemning the peanut butter to an eternity in hell because it had the unmitigated gall to fall out of the cabinet when I opened it, or my Shakespearian actor husband muttering his replies inaudibly as he walks away, means it’s time for a solo walk or maybe just a trip to the grocery store and a leisurely perusal of the gourmet aisle.

Drinking helps. So does marijuana. Fortunately, (or you can add a ‘un’ before that word, your choice) we don’t do those things until the evenings when work is done and we have nowhere to drive and no heavy machinery to operate. So if anxiety strikes around noon, other options must be explored if we expect to have our usual evening of sex and laughter.

Okay, we play a lot of scrabble too.

So far we have replaced the tow hitch twice, extended our sewage pipe, which is no easy feat when you don’t want leaks, and washed dishes with cold water until we could figure out how to work the water heater. (turns out it’s a simple switch in the bathroom) I continually hit the button that extends and retracts the bedroom slide-out thinking it’s a light switch causing the walls to start contracting like a scene from a bad horror movie. I did this so often that Joseph finally hung a picture over it.

Then we go to look at a property where a house burnt down. There is a viewing deck which I immediately see is rotted through. Joseph is about 20 yards away checking out the well.

I call out, “Don’t step on this deck, it’s rotted through!”

He responds with an “Okay!”

I start off up the hill to look at another pad and I hear him say, “Oh, there’s the electrical box.”

Thirty second later I hear a strangled, but manly, scream. My husband is a big, barrel chested Polish man so he does not scream like a girl. My brain immediately has an image of him standing in a puddle with 20K volts rushing through his system and I take off at a run through the trees screaming, (like a girl) “What? What happened.”

All I get in reply is groaning and other various expressions of pain. I come out of the trees to see him on the edge of the deck clutching his knee rocking in pain, behind him, there is a big hole.

Now I’m screwed, there’s no cell phone reception up here, my husband is almost close to twice my size, and there is nothing I can do to help a broken leg.

Do you have any idea how hard it was not to say. “I just told you not to step on that!” I really think I deserve kudos.

Not to worry, my bull of a hubby gasps out, “ACL” meaning that his knee bent backwards again, tearing the tendons. He is such a badass that within seconds he is sitting up, telling me he wants to finish walking the property when the pain subsides enough.

What are you going to do with that kind of courage? I found him a stick, and between that and a little bit of help from me, we hobbled around the acreage. Then went to lunch where we got ice for his knee and two large beers to wash down 4 ibuprofen for his pain. He stayed up all night unable to sleep and took himself to Kaiser the next day alone while I had to drive to LA to spend an absolutely enchanting day at the LA courthouse dealing with some legal crap that should have been settled 14 years ago. On the plus side, I get to visit our daughter, which I try to do for at least a couple days every week.

And the fun keeps on coming. While I’m still down south, Joseph calls to tell me that the RV park in the redwoods where we are staying is backing up with sewage. It’s raining and flooding there so we weren’t really surprised. He said it smelled so badly people started leaving.

Then we found out that the real problem was not the flooding, nor indeed the septic system at the park, oh no.

It was us.

Apparently, we confused a roll of regular toilet paper with the biodegradable stuff and it backed up at our connection. So Joseph goes out, in the raging rain, and clears our sewer hose by hand which, when I asked, he would only describe as ‘disgusting’ because he’s a gentleman and he doesn’t want me to know that it was really like that scene in Shawshank Redemption where the Tim Robbins is crawling through a half mile of unimaginable filth and stench puking as he goes. You’ve got to love a man who can act and direct the crap out of Hamlet and then direct the crap out of our trailer in a downpour.

So now we can officially add surviving a shit storm to our list. Literally.

It’s still pouring, I’m still in LA, and the trailer still smells pretty bad from what Joseph tells me. I just keep apologising that I’m not there to help.

On second thought, dealing with my husband, angry, rain and excrement soaked, in intense pain, unable to bend his knee, swearing and cursing and sweating and bleeding might be one more catastrophe than we bargained for.

Probably better that I wasn’t there now that I think of it.

I mean, how much time can you spend at the grocery store?

And after not a half day, but four or five, I really can’t wait to see him. He’s got a lingerie reward coming, after he showers of course.

Get out there and have an adventure!!

It’s worth it.

 

Shari, February 17, 2017