Here’s the thing. I have a lot going on in my life. Sure, we all do. It’s really not an excuse. I imagine all of the things I could get done if there were more hours in the day!
But, would I get them done? Or what I just start more things that I never finish while posting lots of pictures of Pugcat on his Instagram? (If you don’t follow Pugcat, you really should. He’s a very clever cat.) Pugcat may be the main reason I haven’t written many blog posts recently.
Overseeing Pugcat’s social media is just one of the many ways I find to avoid doing the things I probably should be doing.
There wasn’t the whole distracting world of social media when I was in graduate school the first time in the late 1980s, so back then my main technique for procrastination was house cleaning. That’s a pretty good one to have if you have any neat freak tendencies. I vacuumed the hell out of my house during that period. I liked to think it was a good time for reflecting on what I would start writing as soon as I was done vacuuming.
I never solved a murder mystery while vacuuming, but I did eventually write my thesis and get my master’s degree. And my house has never been so clean!
Procrastination is fine to a point, unless it becomes an endless cycle that leads to never ever actually accomplishing anything. Which is the loop I seem to be stuck in at the moment. I’ve started countless new art projects, am simultaneously reading about 6 books, am about to bake vegan Irish soda bread for Saint Patrick’s Day, and just signed up for French language lessons at the local adult school, I have not managed to fold the 2 loads of laundry in progress, clear the pile of papers of off my desk, or get the long-suffering dog out for a walk.
And then there’s the not so small matter of my doctoral dissertation, which I am now a semester behind on finishing. You’d think it would be less painful to sit down and work on it than to find ways not to do it, but you’d be wrong.
I Googled the word procrastinate and found lots of articles on the different types of procrastination and procrastinators. Some keep it to 2 types, but there are also articles that go with up to 8 types, like this from braintrainingtools.org.
There are countless books on procrastination, procrastination types, how to beat the urge toward procrastination, etc. I haven’t gotten around to reading any of them yet. (See what I did there, huh?)
I’m fond of Mary Toolan’s idea that it is creative types who are prone to procrastination.
Speaking of creative types, one of my favorite methods of procrastination is procraftination.
Until I start procrastinating on finishing any of the craft projects I started while procraftinating…Here are just a few of my unfinished craft projects.
And that doesn’t include my fabric stash, my yarn stash and knitting basket, my coloring books, etc. Maybe I should open a crafting studio! But that would take work, which I have shown I am adept at avoiding.
I even manage to multi-task procrastinate. If I am in the middle of a really good book (of the 6 that I am juggling), I can manage to justify to myself putting off many things for the sake of finishing the book, or just :getting to good stopping place”. Hey, reading is important and good for psychological hhealth.
If I were just a housecat, then it would be completely normal for me to sleep, play, enjoy sun puddles, and generally be non-productive while making those around me happy.
In the meantime, I dream of becoming one of those people who finishes things, getting that PhD just in time to retire. Then I can read and craft and nap all I want! Oh wait, I do that anyway.
That gives me an idea. I can start drawing out plans for my ideal retirement house. It would include a craft room, a reading room, a foster cat room…I’d better make some coffee and get started on that! The laundry and the dissertation can wait.
With apologies to my dissertation committee, especially my committe chair, the amazing Kathia Laszlo, for my easily distracted brain. I will get it done, I promise! It’s just that I am the creative type. I can’t help it!
There’s so much going on that is hard to watch, to think about, to write about. The horrific fires raging in California and the loss of an entire town in moments. The continuing and mind-numbing idiocy and meanness spewing from our so-called President. The growth of homeless encampments across the Bay Area. There is so much to despair of in this world.
I feel so sad about Paradise; it’s a town I visited many times in the early 1980s when I lived in Chico. My ex-husband and I looked at houses to rent there. I remember one in particular, very 1960s with knotty pine paneling and cabinets. I still have a set of teaspoons I bought at a yard sale in Paradise.
With the high winds, the smoke and whatever bad stuff is in the smoke are inundating us here with unbreathable air.
On a personal level, our beloved 20-year old cat Sara passed away last week. She is missed. I feel the lack of her quiet presence. She was with me for a long time, through a lot of ups and downs. Our animal companions leave huge holes behind when they depart.
My heart hurts for so many humans and animals right now.
It’s my day off from work, and I’ve spent the entire day in pajamas, ensconced on the living room sofa with animals and portable entertainment. I’ve escaped to medieval Norway through my current read, Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset, 1920).
I’ve binge watched RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I’ve posted numerous photos to the kitten’s Instagram account. If you don’t follow Pugcat (pugcat_kitten) on Instagram, you are missing out on a lot of cuteness.
For a while this morning, while I was drowing my sorrows in coffee (thanks to Barista Bob), we had music playing. Barista Bob put on a Spotify channel of acoustic, kinda folksy stuff. He knows how much a I like a melancholy singer/songwriter. This was how I discovered the song Someone New (2015) by Irish musician Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who goes by Hozier.
Now, if you listen to or read the lyrics to the song, you wouldn’t think it would cheer me up and give me hope.
Someone New (2015, Andrew Hozier-Byrne and Sallay-Matu Garnett)
Go take this the wrong way You knew who I was with every step that I ran to you Only blue or black days Electing strange perfections is in any stranger I chooseWould things be easier if there was a right way Honey, there is no right way
And so I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new
There’s an art to life’s distractions To somehow escape the burning weight The art of scraping through Some like to imagine The dark caress of someone else I guess any thrill will do
Would things be easier If there was a right way, honey there is no right way
And so I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new
I wake, at the first cringe of morning And my heart’s already sinned How pure, how sweet the love beneath it yeah You would pray for him
‘Cause God knows I fall In love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day
Love with every stranger, the stranger the better Love with every stranger, the stranger the better Love with every stranger, the stranger the better Love with every stranger, the stranger the better
And so I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit Every day with someone new
Maybe I am misreading the intent behind the words, but it does seem to be a song about infidelity. Howwever, me being me, I take a different slant on those words “I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit every day with someone new”. When I play that over and over in my head, which I probably will do for a long time given my susceptibility to ear worms, I hear something else. I hear about finding people who inspire you, who become heroes, who give you hope.
I feel love for the heroes who inspire me, and I like to think I am inspired by someone new every day, falling in love just a little ol’ little bit.
On a big scale, there are all of the heroes working and volunteering up in Butte County to fight the Camp Fire, to help evacuate people, to find places to shelter animals, to bring in needed donations. The daunting task of the firefighters and first responders is impossible to imagine. You are all my heroes.
Today is Veterans Day in the United States (with the federal holiday observed tomorrow since today is a Sunday). The men, women, and animals who have sacrificed in times of war–they can never be thanked enough. Yes, I said animals. Animals have been used from time immemorial to serve in our wars. Horses. Donkeys. Dogs. Pigeons. Not to mention all of the (humans and) animals who are unintended victims in war zones.
I have my personal heroes. One is Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, who documents the atrocities people commit in regard to animals.
Speaking of awe-inspiring Canadians, two words come to mind: Justin Trudeau. He’s young, cool, handsome. And he just made me love him a little ol’ little bit more when the video of his speech, given without an umbrella in the rain, honoring the war dead from a ceremony last year and how it played in contrast to Voldemort, I mean Trump, opting out of a ceremony he was scheduled for due to a light drizzle. Makes me want to parlay my name into an aim for acceptance for a life in Quebec. A girl can dream.
Another is artist Chris Jordan, who also uses photography and film to bring awareness to the world around the devastating effects our actions have on the planet. I highly recommend his 2012 TED talk.
All of the people I work with and who volunteer at the East Bay SPCA are heroes. They work daily doing the unglamorous work of feeding, cleaning, and providing medical care to the dog and cats that come through the shelter. It is physically difficult, of course, but it can also take an emotional toll. Compassion fatigue is a very real battle.
I’ve only come to appreciate until later in my life that my mother, although she made choices I didn’t agree with along the way, was a hero. Widowed in her 20s, with 4 small children, she managed to provide for us and give us a pretty good life. (Up until she married her 2nd husband, but that’s another story.) We all turned out pretty good.
My dear, gentle friend Molly is my hero. She lives a true life of compassion and caring for all creatures. It’s not just talk for Molly. It’s how she truly lives her life. I’m a better person for knowing her.
Heroes can come on a lighter note: people who cheer us up, make us laugh, make us feel better. A coworker did that for me yesterday, noticing I was doing something hard for me and giving me a pat on the back. Two different times during the day. And then opened my world up to RuPaul’s Drag Race (thus the binge watching) by introducing me to Jinkx Monsoon, from season 5, who inexplicably reminds said coworker of me. I’ve never been compared to a drag queen before. I’m not glamorous enough! Jinkx is fabulous. I can only aspire to such fabulousness. But I thank my coworker, who prefers to stay out of the limelight, immensely. I love her, and I love RuPaul, and I love Jinks now, too. Falling in love a little ol’ little bit every day with someone new…
I can’t NOT mention Bob, my ultimate hero. He puts up with me! Seriously, he is always supportive, encouraging me to try new challenges. He loves every animal I ever bring through the door. He has shown me so much of the world that I would never otherwise see. And he loves almost everything I cook, which always makes me feel good. Plus, he makes me coffee!
Fall in love a little ol’ little bit with someone new, someone who makes you realize that there is good in the world. Try it. Open your mind and your heart. Find love in all the places that it exists. You’ll be glad you did.
I am a big fan of the wonderfully crafted NBC drama This Is Us. It makes me cry pretty much every episode. The soundtrack music is well-chosen, and the depiction of past decades makes me warm with nostalgia.
The show is a touching family saga as well as a commentary on issues such as fat shaming, racism, depression, alcoholism (well-depicted, I must say, which isn’t always true), and other important topics. As I have been hearing from more and more people, arguably the heart of the show is father Jack Pearson, played heartbreakingly by Milo Ventimiglio.
Jack Pearson is a man with demons, he is flawed, but he is a good man. And he loves his family more than anything.
As a sensitive person who cries at the silliest things, the recent October 16th episode of the show that was devoted to Jack’s backstory and his volunteering to go to Vietnam in 1971 had me teary-eyed from the get-go. I still tear up when I think back on it. It made me unbearably sad, not just for the characters on the show, but for every young person sent off to war, facing the possibility of their own death, leaving their loved ones behind.
A big part of what made the story so moving was Jack’s reason for volunteering in the first place. He could have sat out the war with his 4-F classification, using his heart condition to justify not going. But he’s been told all his life that his job is to protect his little brother Nicky. His bond with and love for Nicky is fierce. When Nicky is drafted and things go badly for him from the beginning, Jack manages to bypass his medical status through a trick his doctor reluctantly passes on to him, and off he goes. It’s not a spoiler that Nicky doesn’t survive. That’s been known from the beginning of the series. It makes it that much harder to watch as Jack goes, since we know that he won’t be able to save Nicky in the end.
The episode is so well-crafted, written by series creator Dan Fogelman with Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien, most known for his influential and thought-provoking short story The Things They Carried.
The music that stood out to me and sent me down a rabbit hole of research and music purchasing was Tom Rush’s version of Child’s Song. It is haunting in the show’s context of a young man leaving home for war. The song of growing up and moving on, written by Murray McLauchlan and released by Tom Rush on his 1970 album Tom Rush, will have different meanings depending on your age, family circumstances, etc. Tom Rush has been reported to have said that it took him 3 months after recording it to be able to sing it in public without starting to cry. It’s that real.
Goodbye momma goodbye to you too pa Little sister you’ll have to wait a while to come along Goodybye to this house and all its memories
We just got too old to say we’re wrong Got to make one last trip to my bedroom Guess I’ll have to leave some stuff behind
It’s funny how the same old crooked pictures Just don’t seem the same to me tonight There ain’t no use in shedding lonely tears mamma
There ain’t no use in shouting at me pa I can’t live no longer with your fears mamma I love you but that hasn’t helped at all
Each of us must do the things that matter All of us must see what we can see It was long ago you must remember
You were once as young and scared as me I don’t know how hard it is yet mamma When you realize you’re growing old
I know how hard is not to be younger I know you’ve tried to keep me from the cold Thanks for all you done it may sound hollow
Thank you for the good times that we’ve known But I must find my own road now to follow You will all be welcome in my home
Got my suitcase I must go now I don’t mind about the things you said I’m sorry Mom I don’t know where I’m going
Remember little sister look ahead Tomorrow I’ll be in some other sunrise Maybe I’ll have someone at my side
Mamma give your love back to your husband Father you’ve have taught we well goodbye Goodbye Mamma goodbye to you too pa Goodbye momma goodbye to you too pa
Little sister you’ll have to wait a while to come along Goodybye to this house and all it’s memories We just got too old to say we’re wrong
Got to make one last trip to my bedroom Guess I’ll have to leave some stuff behind It’s funny how the same old crooked pictures
Just don’t seem the same to me tonight There ain’t no use in shedding lonely tears mamma There ain’t no use in shouting at me pa
I can’t live no longer with your fears mamma I love you but that hasn’t helped at all Each of us must do the things that matter
All of us must see what we can see It was long ago you must remember You were once as young and scared as me
I don’t know how hard it is yet mamma When you realize you’re growing old I know how hard is not to be younger
I know you’ve tried to keep me from the cold Thanks for all you done it may sound hollow Thank you for the good times that we’ve known
But I must find my own road now to follow You will all be welcome in my home Got my suitcase I must go now
I don’t mind about the things you said I’m sorry Mom I don’t know where I’m going Remember little sister look ahead
Tomorrow I’ll be in some other sunrise Maybe I’ll have someone at my side Mamma give your love back to your husband Father you’ve have taught me well goodbye Goodbye Mamma goodbye to you too pa
The feeling of sadness, despair, and gloom I felt might have been compounded by the realization, after watching the magnificent Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary series The Vietnam War that aired on PBS starting in September, 2017, of how little I knew about the conflict in Vietnam and its repercussions, about the lies behind the war, and the needless loss of so many lives. The soldiers who survived came back forever changed and were met with hostility. When I watched the series, I just wanted to curl up in bed under the covers and never come out.
The feelings that The Vietnam War, This Is Us, and Child’s Song wrought in me reminded me the disturbing and, for me, life changing, art exhibition I worked on when I was with the now-defunct Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, California.
As the assistant registrar in the art exhibitions department, it was my task to count and document the condition of each work of art displayed in any exhibition. In about 2003, we presented a show of artist Julie Green’s painted plates, The Last Supper, in which she painstakingly depicts the last meal requests of real death row prisoners who’ve been executed. Talk about a difficult subject…
Last I checked, the plate collection was up to over 700. That represents 700 real people who have been put to death by various state governments. People who knew they would die, who knew when they would die, and how. Who ordered their last meals, and either ate them or didn’t (I wouldn’t be able to), and then prepared for their executions. As I handled each plate, reading on the backs the locations and dates of the executions and looking at the images of the requested meals, I felt sad, sick, hopeless, ashamed. My intention is not to start a political debate about the death penalty. What I am trying to convey is that sense of empathy for another human being, of trying to understand what it’s like for someone facing their own mortality. I talk about practicing kindness, compassion, and empathy a lot, not because it comes naturally for me but because I have to work at it. Yes, the people (predominantly but not all men) whose meals are illustrated in the plates were convicted of horrible crimes. I am not defending them. I am lamenting a society in which we can justify taking the lives of others.
Across from the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) station in nearby Lafayette, California are the white crosses on the hill that can be seen from Highway 24. An anti-war memorial, each cross represents an American soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2006. The last count I found was close to 8,000 crosses on the 2.7 acre hillside. It’s hard to capture the feeling it engenders when seen. It’s vast and beautiful and disturbing and sobering all at the same time.
I honestly don’t know how to shake off the feelings of despair and hopelessness. One of the things I strive for these days is positivity and cheerfulness. But you can’t always be positive and cheerful , can you? There are bad things in the world, and despite my desire to bury my head in the sand and avoid anything unhappy, I feel like I have an obligation to increase my awareness of what is happening in my neighborhood, my country, my world. It is only with knowledge that we can make change.
P.S. Maybe it will cheer you up to look back on a younger Milo Ventimiglio, who was Rory’s love interest Jess Mariano on another favorite show, Gilmore Girls, in 2002. I was definitely one of the show’s fans who hoped Rory would end up with Jess. He was the misunderstood, brooding bad boy, just the right counterpart to too-good-to-be-true Rory.
Maybe that’s what I need–no, not a bad boy, but to watch some Gilmore Girls as an antidote to my “the world sucks” blues. A little time in fictional Stars Hollow, where everyone knows each other and you can drink coffee to your heart’s content at Luke’s Diner. Escapism at its best!
Unlike the father in the popular Twitter feed, book, and short-lived television show starring William Shatner, Sh*t My Dad Says (Justin Halpern), my mother was never gross or profane (God forbid!). But she still managed to fill my head with some real stinkers.
My mother was raised in a fairly strict, upper middle-class home in the 1940s and 1950s South, where manners and social standing were emphasized. Although my maternal grandmother was a Vermont farm girl, once she and my Alabama-born grandfather moved to Atlanta when my mother was a toddler, you’d never have guessed that my grandmother had ever been north of the Mason-Dixon line.
My mother was sweet, hospitable, polite. Things I think I learned from her. She also taught me to love reading, to be kind to animals, and to always have Kleenex within reach. That’s important. We tend to drippy noses in my family, and you don’t want to be caught without a tissue! Of course, in her youth, it would’ve been monogrammed handkerchiefs.
She taught us well. My siblings and I are all excessively polite, maybe not by Southern standards, but we tend to seem goofy anywhere else in the country. We are all neat and tidy. Although I am less neat and tidy than I used to be since I work full time, am working on my PhD, have 5 animals in the house, and live with a wonderful guy who isn’t so neat and tidy (love you, Bob).
She also imparted words of supposed wisdom that she honestly believed to be true, but which I have found have either messed with my self-image or made me wonder if I was adopted. Yes, there are baby pictures of me, and yes, I look like my mother, but still…
Every woman should own at least one pair of red shoes. She believed this, most definitely, and my sister Ellen will defend that statement with her last breath. But I beg to disagree. I have survived fine with nary a pair of red shoes in my closet. I wore red Keds as a child, so maybe that counts, but I had to wear boys’ Keds at the time because of my short, wide feet, and in the 1960s there probably weren’t a lot of color choices. I wore them because they fit, not because they were red. Ellen talked me into buying a pair of red sandals a few years ago, and during a recent closet cleanout, I realized I had NEVER worn them and put them in the charity collection bag I was filling up. I work in an animal shelter and tend to spend my spare time in my old shabby clogs that act as bedroom slippers. My shoe choices are dictated by comfort and the fact that I have bad feet (bunions, corns, hammer toes; TMI, I know) so red shoes–don’t need ’em, have no use for ’em. Sorry, Mom. And Ellen.
Change your purse to match your shoes. Not going to happen. Ever. EVER. My mother’s closet had special shelves and cubbies for her shoes and purses. She had purses to match every pair of shoes. She kept the purses in silk bags. She paid a lot of money for the purses. When she was in hospice, one of the things she insisted on was that I take her purses. (We didn’t wear the same size shoes, or she would have made me take those too, I am sure.) I have the purses, and they are very nice. I never use them. One of them is red; she probably hoped against hope that I would buy some red shoes to go with said purse. I don’t have the time or patience to be switching purses. And again, I work at an animal shelter. I haven’t found a purse that matches my grubby black shoes I wear to clean dog kennels and cat habitats. I have 2 purses that I really like and I might switch them out every year or so, if that. In the late Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, she wrote a whole chapter about hating her purse and not understanding women who spend large sums of money on collecting them.
She had the same purse “failing” that I have. I felt so much better about myself after I read her book. Just find me a bag that my stuff fits in and let me go. I’ll never find my keys on the first try no matter what magic the purse offers.
Women over 40 should never wear sleeveless attire.I bought this one for a while. Her point was that women shouldn’t expose the jiggly droopy bits that arms develop with age, unless you’re a gym rat or Michelle Obama.
Getting old isn’t for sissies, as it’s been said. Your body changes. As noted in the title of Nora Ephron’s book, necks get crepey. Arms get droopy. Laugh lines appear around the eyes and mouth. And I do consider them laugh lines. I earned those suckers with my polite smiling. Some people call that arm fat “batwings”. People (women, really, it’s only women) even get arm lifts, or brachioplasty, from cosmetic surgeons. We’ve been made self-conscious to the point of obsession about our arms. I spent many years living in a hot climate and avoiding tank tops and only wearing pretty sleeveless dresses if I had a cardigan on at the same time (just to cover my arms). I say, “No more!” Maybe if I had extreme, super droopy batwings, I’d feel differently. But I see a lot of people out in the world who don’t seem to care how they look. I haven’t quit caring; far from it. But if it’s hot or if I’m going somewhere fancy and want to wear a sleeveless (not strapless, that’s a different thing altogether) dress, I will.
Similarly, she said women over 40 shouldn’t go out in public bare-legged. Panty-hose at all times with skirts, dresses, even shorts. Hell no. Pantyhose are hot and itchy. They get runs in them. They sag around your ankles. They are expensive and don’t last long. Unless we are talking about either appropriate dress for a job interview or super fun colors and patterns of hose and tights, I am out.
You’d be prettier if you cut your hair/pushed your hair out of your face/kept your hair short. I still hear Mom’s voice telling me to cut my hair. Hey, Mom! It’s MY HAIR, not yours. This has caused me endless insecurity about my hair, the shape of my face, my eyeglasses once I had to start wearing them, my looks in general since I was a little girl. Mom used to take us to a place in Atlanta called David of Paris for pixie cuts back in the 60s. I think Monsieur David only knew how to do one hair cut. Short. Yes, it was cute when I was 5.
I’ve had short hair much of my life, and at times it has been a good look, mostly when I was thinner and going blond.
Then I’d let my hair grow out because I wanted to, and Mom would start on the subtle and not-so-subtle hints for me to cut my hair, or at least pull it off my face. But preferably cut it. I’m trying to tune out that Mom voice in my head when it comes to my hair. I am mostly succeeding these days, mostly, kinda sorta…Should I cut it?
If you can’t sleep, close your eyes and lie still. You’ll at least be rested in the morning. FALSE. I still try this. It does not work. Mom would tell me this most often when I couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school every year. I would lie in bed, eyes squeezed shut, and imagine all the awful things that might happen in the upcoming school year, dread filling me, my stomach hurting. I still have sleepless nights, and I lie there, looking at the clock once in a while, thinking I’ll rest, when I’m actually a churning ball of anxiety over whether I’ll ever get to sleep. During one really bad spell of insomnia, I would throw in the towel and get up and bake in the middle of the night. I went on a quest to make the perfect morning bun–those flaky twists of buttery croissant dough, coated with cinnamon sugar and baked in muffin tins. This took quite a few batches to perfect (which I did, thanks to Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery.
Each morning I would take the resulting pastries to work. I was exhausted, but popular. Now if I get up, it’s either to read or to write. The insomnia is generally now a case of too much caffeine in my system, but it’s just as exhausting as the dread-filled kind.
If you feel a sore throat coming on, gargle with warm saltwater. Maybe there is some truth to this, but I hated it. I suffered from a lot of sore throats growing up, and I still wish some doctor had ordered a tonsillectomy for me. But they quit doing them routinely to kids around the time I was born. My Vermont farmgirl grandmother had trained as a nurse and worked in a hospital in New York, where she met my doctor grandfather. The warm saltwater gargle was her thing. Mom would make me take a big glass of the stuff into the bathroom to gargle with anytime I mentioned a tickle in my throat. I’d still get a sore throat, and my mouth would taste of salt. Maybe it is what led to my weird love of salt now. I’ll put flakes of it on my tongue to suck on, and I adore Dutch salty licorice. Maybe I’ll try sucking on salty licorice next time I feel a sore throat coming on.
I’m sure there are gems of my own I would impart to the daughter I never had. She’d probably roll her eyes, and do just the opposite. What are my truths?
Dark chocolate makes everything better. Maybe not literally. You’ll still be ill or broke or alone. But the chocolate will make it just a little bit better somehow. I swear.
If you don’t believe me, do you trust Scientific American? Writer Katherine Harmon Courage descibed the health benefits of chocolate in scienctific terms in the article “Why is dark chocolate good for you? Thank your microbes.”
Your feet are too important for cheap or uncomfortable shoes. That was something my ever-wise maternal grandmother said, and I totally ignored her about this topic until I started to have trouble with my feet. Somehow my grandmother managed to wear good shoes that still looked stylish, but I haven’t managed that. I’ll stick with my flat, sensible, square-toed shoes. Have I mentioned that I work at an animal shelter?
Read every day. Pretty simple. I will brook no argument on this one.
Everyone should have a creative outlet. Whether it is writing, drawing, sewing, music, cooking, making models of castles out of matchsticks, whatever floats your boat. Do something that makes you happy and let’s your mind drift away from your cares and worries.
I’ll finish with a quote from the writer C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), sent to me on my birthday by sister Ellen. “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” Lewis was a brilliant man. Don’t doubt that.
I intend to follow his advice to the end of my days.
Dream. Dream small, dream big, but dream. Don’t stop.
I had caffeine yesterday. Which meant I was awake a lot during the night when I should have been sleeping. Which meant my brain was on overdrive. Which meant I had lots of random thoughts that became BIG THOUGHTS. Which meant I reflected way too much on life and death and unfulfilled dreams.
Thus my discourse on the bucket list. I hate the name “bucket list”. Hey, let’s talk about me kicking the bucket! “Things to to before I die” doesn’t sound any better. “Life list” is better but maybe too…I don’t know…not meaningful somehow even though it sounds like it should be.
While looking for images of buckets lists that weren’t stupid and/or gruesome, I saw the motivational phrase “Collect experiences, not things”. Okay. I think most things on my list are experiences. Or I can rephrase them to become experiences. As you will see in a bit (really), one of my list entries includes a basket, so I decided that the idea of collecting and the notion of a basket work well together, so I shall call my list a basket, and as I collect experiences they go in my basket. It’s my basket case, so to speak. Just to be clear, I’m not calling myself a basket case, I’m saying I HAVE a basket case. A metaphorical receptacle, container, collection space for my memories of once-in-a lifetime dreams come true.
I collected many things for my basket this last summer on our trip to England:
-A visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Every bit as amazing as I expected, and so much to see that we had to pick and choose and miss some things. And of course we made it to the cafe. The coffee was pretty good!
-Finding and shopping at London’s oldest bookstore, Hatchards, booksellers since 1797. Wow. Yes, books were purchased. But the point was the experience of going to the bookstore and soaking in the atmosphere of literary history. And you’ve gotta love a bookstore with a whole wall of P.G. Wodehouse books. Can’t have too much Jeeves and Wooster, ever!
-Conveniently for my basket case, Hatchards and the venerable purveyor of gourmet provisions Fortnum & Mason are neighbors. Two list entries with one stone…
I have been wanting to go to Fortnum & Mason and put together a hamper of their delicacies ever since I first read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small (first published in the United States in 1972). The television adaptation first aired in 1978.
As I remember it, which could be wrong (but since it’s how I remember it I’m going with it), James and his boss/mentor Siegfried compete with each other, vying to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey and her spoiled, fat, flatulent Pekingese named Tricki-Woo.
When Mrs. Pumphrey is especially pleased, a food basket (see, basket, I told you it baskets would be relevant) from Fortnum & Mason arrives at Skeldale House for the vets. I always imagined such mouth-watering treats in that basket, or hamper as they refer to it. I longed to see the wonderland of Fortnum & Mason.
In other English novels along the way, I’ve read other references to the hampers from F & M. The store was more than I hoped for–4 floors of foods, drinks, housewares, and best of all, the hamper section.
You can get pre-packed hampers of various assortments or choose the bespoke option (British for “made to order”). Sadly, travel companion Bob wasn’t feeling great when we were at the shop, so we left hamperless. But I was there! And I eventually ordered a hamper to be delivered to the U.S. when we got home. Is this collecting a thing, not an experience? Far from it. Yes, there are delectables to eat and a hamper to keep, but it’s about the experience of going to the store, of ordering the hamper, waiting for it to arrive, unwrapping it…
-If heaven exists, I am sure it smells like chocolate. On our canal boat adventure, we found a whole Welsh town, Chirk, that smells like chocolate. I didn’t even know that was on my basket list until we went there. At first we couldn’t identify the warm, sweet, comforting scent in the air. Then we saw the sign–headquarters of Cadbury Chocolate. I now want every town on the planet to smell like chocolate! (And I also think “The Town that Smelled Like Chocolate” would be a great title for a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.)
-Visit a castle. Check. Also in the chocolatey town of Chirk. Chirk Castle.
-How to top all of this? Spend a few days in Oxford. Several items experiences for the basket. Just being in Oxford is hard to describe. It’s difficult as an American to imagine how old things are there. Wandering around the city and the various colleges of Oxford University, you just feel smarter. My first impressions of Oxford of course have literary roots–Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). The 11-part television series (1981) is still one of my favorites.
And there are others, such as the Inspector Morse books (and television show) and the Endeavor television show (prequel to Inspector Morse), both set in and filmed in Oxford. Another source of my Oxford fascination–Jerome K. Jerome’s quite funny Three Men in a Boat (1889), made into a hilarious film by the BBC in 1975, with Tim Curry, Michael Palin, and Stephen Moore as the eponymous three men on a rowing holiday on the Thames.
There are other experiences, of course, that have been added to the basket. For example, my lifelong dream to see Paris, finally achieved in 2014. Everything I imagined and more. Thank you (merci beaucoup), Bob.
There are still experiences to add to the basket. Going up in a hot air balloon has been on the list for years. And that brings up another basket–the one attached to the balloon. I hope it’s well attached, just saying.
In my younger days, seeing U2 in concert was on the list, but I’ve outgrown that one. I can’t deal with arena concerts anymore. I’ve become old and grumpy about crowds and noise. I did finally get to see Peter Gabriel perform, and check that off my list, at the much easier to manage Greek Theater in Berkeley in 2011. And he was great. I sang along with every song, and Bob was a good sport about it.
At the top of the list–finish my PhD before I turn 60. I don’t want to be the oldest person in the world still in graduate school! I dream of retiring to a house in the country, adopting a rescue goat, designing and building a she-shed, finally learning to speak French well. And getting around to reading War and Peace, and Moby Dick. Yes, both. I can handle big fat books–reading one now.
We all have dreams. Some seem outrageous (my vegan food truck dream). Some are lofty (end animal homelessness). Some are silly (rewatch the television series Gilmore Girls from start to finish).
That’s the great thing about your bucket, your hamper, your basket, your life list, whatever you want to call it. The possibilities are endless–the basket can hold anything you dream. It’s up to you to find a way to make the dream come true.
One of the pleasures of getting older is looking back on meaningful things in the progression of your life, or making sense of things that maybe didn’t at the time, or even reflecting on what weren’t good times and seeing how they contributed to who you are. I’m realizing how important the music of various times has been as the soundtrack to my story. I more and more listen to the music of my young adulthood and hear a beauty in it that I didn’t necessarily get at the time. I just knew I liked it, but maybe not so much what it meant.
I was reading The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen (originally published in the Netherlands in 2014), and felt compelled to take a photo of this quote. It’s so true!
When we were on our recent vacation in England, I happened to hear over a cafe sound system songs by Leonard Cohen that took me back to the time when I didn’t even think I liked Leonard Cohen.
Now I appreciate him for the incredible poet that he was, and wish I’d paid more attention. The song playing was The Sisters of Mercy (1967), and I fell in love with it there in the cafe.
I don’t remember if it was the same cafe or later somewhere else on the trip, but my attention was caught by the Crosby, Stills & Nash song See the Changes (written by Stephen Stills) from the 1977 album CSN.
See the Changes (Stephen Stills)
She has seen me changing It ain’t easy rearranging And it gets harder as you get older Farther away as you get closer
And I don’t know the answer Does it even matter? I’m wonderin’ how
Ten years singing right out loud I never looked was anybody listening Then I fell out of a cloud I hit the ground and noticed something missing
Now I have someone She has seen me changing And it gets harder as you get older And farther away as you get closer
And I don’t know the answer Does it even matter? I’m wonderin’ how
Seems like something out of a dream I had years ago yes, I remember screaming Nobody laughing all the good times Getting harder to come by without weeping
Now I have someone She has seen me changing And it gets harder as you get older And farther away
Most of my favorite Crosby, Stills & Nash songs were written by Stephen Stills, and his voice was always the one that stood out to me. I went to see him in concert in Sacramento back in about 1990ish, and he was older and heavier (as I am now), but he could still play that guitar and his voice was as strong as ever.
As we steered our canal boat through the English countryside into Wales, See the Changes became the soundtrack in my head, the song I sang aloud when no one was listening. The lines “…and it gets harder as you get older, and farther away as you get closer…” seemed particularly relevant as I took ibuprofen every night after the day’s hard work or raising and lowering locks and bridges on the canalway.
I also had a lot of time to reflect on the meaning of those lines and whether or not I’d say that it’s true that it gets harder as I get older or if anything seems farther away. I suppose it depends on what the “it” is. Some things get harder as I get older, like getting up if I sit on the floor, or getting by on little sleep, or being on my feet all day. Those are the physical things.
The mental and emotional things, for me, have gotten easier in a lot of ways. My social skills are much better, I’m more tolerant and open-minded, I deliberately aim for kindness and compassion in my approach to life and the other inhabitants of the planet. I love learning, and since I quit drinking 5 years ago, my brain engages and I want to learn more, always.
Farther away? Well, the closer I get to the PhD finish line, the farther away that seems! People I started the program with, in my cohort as they say, have in some cases finished (congratulations, Barbara!) or are close to finishing (you go, Jennifer!). I’m still about a year away at best. But I remind myself over and over that it’s not a race or a competition, that I’ll finish in my own time and will be proud of what I accomplished. Retirement seems farther away than ever! I dream about the retirement house we will move to some day, where it will be and how clean and simple and tranquil it will be. The projects I’ll get done, all the books I’ll read. It’ll be awesome, if I ever get there.
In addition to music and language, visual imagery, of course, is a huge part of our memories, nostalgia, reminiscing. I love to look through old photographs, but unfortunately, due a house fire in 1987, a lot of family photos were destroyed.
When I was in high school in the late 1970s, I was obsessed with Seventeen magazine. Summer breaks seemed so long and luxurious (maybe because I wasn’t motivated to get a summer job like other teens; shy and lacking in confidence, the idea of applying for jobs was beyond me), and I couldn’t wait for the newest edition of the magazine, with the upcoming fall trends and teen advice. I was shy, yes, and also a loner, but I wanted what was in those magazines! I commandeered my mother’s old sewing machine, dragging it into my room, and followed all of the instructions on how to remake your wardrobe (turning flared pant legs into straight ones was a big one). In particular, the August 1978 issue was one that I read and reread, tried to copy the styles from, and wanted so badly to be the cover model, Lari Jane Taylor. I actually have remembered her name all of these years. I still love the look. I even still have a copy of the magazine, carefully preserved in an archival sleeve. It was my bible going into my senior year of high school, a year fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. In my 17-year old brain, I thought the right color eyeshadow would be the answer to my problems.
Lari Jane Taylor was also the cover model of the January 1979 issue, looking into the spring. That issue didn’t have the same impact on me, clearly, since I’d forgotten about it until I searched on her name. I prefer the August 1978 look anyway.
Ah, the late 1970s. A strange time, a transitional time between the “hippie” era of the late 60s and early 70s and the me-first greed of the 1980s. I often felt a little lost, not identifying with my peers. I became vegetarian, made my own clothes, listened to the “wrong” music (I abhored disco music, although I think it’s fun now). I wasn’t a punk, either. I was a geek in a land of jocks and cheerleaders on one side, and feaks and punks on the other. If you’ve never watched the one season of Freaks and Geeks (set in 1980), I highly recommend it, by the way.
I was flipping throught the 1978 magazine, and all kinds of advertisements and images struck me as hugely amusing now, 40 years later.
But look again at the song lyrics to See the Changes. The lines just before “and it gets harder as you get older, farther away as you get closer”:
Now I have someone
She has seen me changing…
Having someone with you on your journey who sees the work you are doing, who appreciates how hard you are working and can help you get perspective when whatever “it” is seems harder or farther away–that’s now my takeaway from this song. Whether it’s a sibling, a friend, a significant other, a companion animal (I’m not joking)–having someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, to give you comfort when you feel down–can make a world of difference. Hey, that English canal boat was a 2-person job and it was hard (but fun) work. Kind of like life.
I haven’t written in ages, and it feels odd to say how off-track I’ve gotten with school and writing. It’s been a busy spring and summer. I am currently on vacation, sitting on a canal boat in Wrenbury in the UK. While I struggle with spotty WiFi, it’s made up for by the lovely sights, sounds, and smells of the canal and surrounding countryside. I have loads of ideas for stories and essays ahead, including the funny one about meeting the Red Imps football/soccer team from Gibraltar on a quayside on the canal. For now, I will sign off with promises to get back into writing mode in August. Off to return our rented canal boat, Cobb’s Wren, to the marina and catch a train to Oxford! If that doesn’t inspire me to mental activity, I don’t know what will!
Let me start by saying I know nothing about the religion of Voodoo (or Vodou, considered by scholars to be the more appropriate spelling). I am sure it has been drastically misrepresented in television and the movies. The religion originates in Africa, but is different in the various places it is practiced. As practiced in the Americas (most famously in New Orleans in North America) and the Caribbean, it combines African, Catholic, and Native American traditions. Voodoo is not necessarily a cult, or violent, or the black magic it’s been portrayed to be, and my understanding is that most people who are Voodooists have never seen or used a Voodoo doll. (If interested, you can read more about Voodoo the religion in Saumya Arya Haas’s article for the Huffington Post.)
I, however, am fascinated by Voodoo dolls. I have a few, not a lot, that are not meant to represent anyone in particular and I don’t stick pins in them or anything. Mostly, I think they are terribly cute.
At least the ones you used to be able to buy from places like Jamie Hayes Gallery in New Orleans are cute. I bought a couple of dolls the week I was there between Christmas and New Years in 2009. In the gallery window was a Christmas tree decorated with little dolls, and I thought it was about the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. )Looking at the website now, I don’t see any dolls.) These are the dolls I bought at the gallery:
I love these 2 in particular because they remind me of another cute overload duo–Hoops and Yoyo™ from Hallmark.
Hoops and Yoyo™ crack me up. My inner 12-year old takes over at certain moments, and she will almost always choose Hoops and Yoyo™ if choosing a card for someone (given that humor is appropriate; I do have some common sense).
The tiny Mariposa doll was a gift from a very dear friend who always knows what to pick up for me on her travels.
Mariposa, a string doll from Watchover Voodoo, has a particular assignment and was thoughtfully chosen for my needs:
My first experience with a real life Voodoo was at a job, a job I loved but unfortunately didn’t stay at long. And no, that had nothing to do with the presence of a Voodoo doll in the boss’s desk drawer. The Voodoo doll was meant to represent the former boss, who had left suddenly and vaulted the new boss into the position with little notice or preparation. In times of stress, New Boss would secretly take out the Voodoo doll of Old Boss and stick a pin or two into her, and then get back to work. The secret didn’t stay secret, but given what a cool and unflappable (being sarcastic there) group of women we were, none of us thought too much about it. It was an amusing way of relieving stress. If Watchover Voodoo had existed back in the early 1990s (or, if online shopping had existed, which, believe it or not children, there was such a time), New Boss might have bought Watchover Voodoo’s the Stress Reducer, the Love Your Job, or even the Ninja.
I myself am partial to, besides Mariposa, the Bad Hair Day (I have a lot of those), the Pixie, the Loner, and the Nice One. Sometimes I really need the Scatterbrain. Take a look at the collection; there’s one for everyone and every need!
I might have made a Voodoo doll once, but I won’t go into too many details except to say I was at a very low point in my life and I was really furious at the person whose name and image the doll carried. I did stab the doll through its little heart a few times. Did it make me feel better? Absolutely, for a minute or two. Did it make a difference? Not at all.
This brings to mind the whole concept of magical thinking, which I’ve always found myself doing, but hadn’t thought about as a concept or applied a name to it until I read the Augusten Burroughs memoir Magical Thinking: True Stories (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).
Best known for the memoir Running with Scissors (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), Burroughs does not shy away from the personal and painful while still mananaging to be funny.
Magical thinking is the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. A four-year-old child, for example, might believe that after wishing for a pony, one will appear at his or her house. Magical thinking is also colloquially used to refer more broadly to mystical, magical thoughts, such as the belief in Santa Claus, supernatural entities, and miraculous occurrences.
My experience as an adult with magical thinking runs along the line of the belief that I am bad luck for the San Francisco Giants so I shouldn’t watch their games on television (e.g., if I root for them they will lose, but if I don’t pay attention, they will win). Or if I wish really hard, that pair of shoes I really want will go on sale. Magical thinking can be totally harmless, but can also be correlated with mental health conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Does love invite magical thinking? (I just stole that line from the book The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal.)
Joan Didion also wrote a memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which magical thinking plays into her journey through grief in the year following the death of her husband, while she also cared for her comatose daughter, who also eventually passed away.
We see athletes who never vary their pregame rituals or their approach to their turn at bat, say. I’m thinking of San Francisco Giant Pablo Sandoval there.
You can call it superstition or magical thinking or delusion or irrational or whatever you want (or unhygienic in the cap case). But does it work? According to a 2009 article by Piercarlo Valdesolo for Scientific American, it can give people an edge. Lucky charms do have power, not because they are indeed magical, but because we believe they are.
Rituals, signs, omens. They’ve been part of the human psyche forever. Supersitions and the belief in luck are reported to have an evolutionary basis. The cave person who runs from the rustling in the bushes survives, whether it’s a fanged and hungry carnivorous beastie or the wind.
Many writers have compiled encyclopediae of superstitions.
Some of the described superstitions are amusing, others not so much. For instance, diagonal windows in Vermont are called witch windows, due to the belief that a witch can’t fly a broomstick through them.
At the animal shelter, we see more often than you might think people who will not consider adopting black cats. And some shelters will not adopt out black cats at Halloween to prevent animal torture.
All of that aside, lucky charms and rituals provide us with comfort and a feeling that we can somehow control the chaos of life. I’m okay with that! Much less fattening than a bowl of macaroni and cheese, even the vegan kind.
So now I bring out my magic wand and take you back to the magical and simpler time of 1982 and the band that was known as America.
My magical powers are perhaps limited. I can make a great vegan muffin. And make it disappear as well! I can try to make Einstein see the wisdom of my words.
What I really can do is choose how I live in this world. And I choose, to the best of my ability, to live a good life, a life of love and kindness, and a belief in the magic of happiness. Perhaps the beautiful and inspirational Audrey Hepburn said it best.
That’s something I never thought I’d do: start an essay by referring to the Bible (or any other religious text). It’s so not my style. First of all, I’ve never read the Bible so quoting the Bible or anything remotely Biblical is beyond me. The Bible would be one of my nightmare categories if I ever competed on Jeopardy! or any other quiz show. Along with sports and pretty much anything to do with geography.
I think of myself as more of a secular pagan (if there is such a thing) than anything else: I love feasting and gift giving but for reasons of all kinds and on a daily basis, not because of any religious foundations. I’d much rather celebrate solstices, equinoxes, the seasons and nature. And kindness as an everyday way of life. Which leads me to Proverbs.
On page 39, the main character Robert, after the new kid at school, Nathan, defends him from the school bully, is being told by his mother, ” ‘So now he needs you to be kind back. Remember Proverbs: Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.’ She smiled at me, and I knew the game was up.”
Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.
This struck me as possibly one of the most important things I’d read in a long time. (If you must know, it’s Proverbs 3:3, according to Google.) Words spoken by Solomon, who I was thinking about just the other day. Really.
A story I do remember hearing often is that of two women both claiming that they are the mother of a fought-over baby and King Solomon, deciding the case, advises cutting the baby in half. I was always horrified by what was called the wisdom of Solomon. But of course the upshot is that he correctly surmises that the woman who says she will give up the baby is the real mother. In her love, she’d rather give him up than have him hurt.
I have to remind myself every day to be kind. As much as I wish it always came naturally to me, it doesn’t. People try my patience and elude my understanding. I find myself being judgmental, envious, dismissive. Working in an animal shelter, I see both the best and worst in human nature. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, part of the unpredictability of being human.
I felt called upon to be Solomon not so long ago when two women were arguing over who should get to adopt a particular dog. Would Solomon have suggested cutting the dog in two and seeing how the women reacted? Neither was willing to step back and let the other adopt the dog. I had to make a decision based on our first come, first served policy. Whatever my decision, one of the women was going to be very angry with me. My interior voice was saying that there are plenty of little brown Chihuahuas (also called LBDs, Little Brown Dogs) to go around so let’s not argue over that particular one, but I can’t say those things out loud. I really don’t like the feeling of having made someone angry and unhappy. And if I had handled it better, two dogs would have gone to new homes, not just one.
I wish I had remembered the wisdon of William Ury rather than Solomon. Ury is a noted writer, speaker, negotiator, and helped found the International Negotation Network with former United States President Jimmy Carter.
Here’s his amazing TED talk, The Road to Yes.
I am familiar with William Ury from his book The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop.
I automatically went to the role of arbiter in the dog dispute, but I could have explored other roles. If I’d only had the book with me and the time to consult it! As an introvert operating in an extrovert job, I find myself not always thinking fast on my feet. I like to mull things over, reflect, and formulate my responses. I’m terrible at witty answers to stupid questions, too.
One of my go-to sources on postings about life as an introvert is Introvert, Dear. I’m not alone in my need for time to respond. Plus, if I said the first thing that comes to mind, I could get in a lot of trouble.
It make employees unhappy. True. We take a lot of bad mouthing and abuse and smile while we do it.
It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage. Absolutely. Squeaky wheel syndrome. Bad behavior is rewarded.
Some customers are bad for business. Yes, anyone causing a ruckus at any place of business will turn off other customers and they will go elsewhere. Or we will get a bad Yelp review.
It results in worse customer service. If we are tired, humiliated, frustrated, we may unintentionally reflect that to clients who are there with the best of intentions.
Some customers are just plain wrong. They are. And sometimes we have to convey that to prevent harm to an animal. Tactfully, of course. Our ulitmate priority is the health and safety of the people and the animals we serve.
I can list many examples of all of these points, some funny (the male dog returned after 2 hours because the woman felt awkward explaining to her 6 year old about male body parts), some sad (the elderly woman who fell in love with and wanted to adopt a particular dog but her son said no because he didn’t like the breed mix), some infuriating (people who insist on animals living outdoors despite evidence that animals who live indoors with their human families generally live longer, healthier lives), some downright puzzling (the woman who pointed to a kitten and asked “do you have that one in gray” as if she were shoe shopping). And don’t get me started on some of the phone calls we field!
We all have bad days, make mistakes, could use a little leeway. I try to keep that in mind with the people I deal with. I wish everyone kept that in mind when dealing with others: we don’t know what another person might be going through, what might be making them act they way they do, what their story is.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. To each other, to animals, to the earth. To yourself.
A song I adore (got to get a musical reference in here somewhere!) that speaks to love, kindness, and writing them on the tablet of your heart is Clem Snide’s Find Love. Love is an infinite commodity. The more we give, the more we have.
I do have a quibble with Proverbs. Our hearts are not tablets. That to me implies stone, a hard substance that wears away with time. I think of the metaphorical heart as able to grow, to be nourished and to provide sustenance, more like a garden. Apparently Jesus said that hearts are like gardens too (I didn’t know that, I just Googled “the heart is a garden”). I also discovered a poem by Katherine Merrill, Heart’s Garden.
By Katherine Merrill
My heart is a garden where thought flowers grow. The thoughts that I think are the seeds that I sow. Every kind loving thought bears a kind loving deed, And a thought that is selfish is just like a weed.
So I must watch what I think each minute each day, Pull out the weed thoughts and throw them away, And plant loving seed thoughts so thick in a row, There will not be room for weed thoughts to grow.
Buddha also compared the heart to a garden. As did Oscar Wilde. I feel like I am in such good company on this one!
If this is too high-minded for you, think of Dr. Suess’s character the Grinch and his tiny little heart that grows when he discovers the power of love and kindness.
I was enjoying a nice lunch break at work one day last week, and was pleased to notice while enjoying the warmth of the sun that my socks not only matched each other and my shoes matched each other, but my socks matched my shoes. It made me so happy, and on one of those days when I was feeling behind on everything at home and perhaps a bit stretched at work, it felt like such a victory. A small victory perhaps, but embracing those victories helps me keep my well-dressed feet on the ground, so to speak.
Especially working in the world of animal rescue, it can be easy to slip into the feeling of never getting anywhere. For every animal successfully placed into a loving home, there are countless more that need help. The spay/neuter message is not getting out to people, if the number of kittens coming into shelter right now is any indication. On some days, it seems like we have more animals coming into the shelter than going out. Believe me, I love fostering kittens during so-called kitten season, but I wish there wasn’t so much need for it.
My way of coping, and staying firmly planted on the sunny side of the street (my preferred side of the street and of life), is to focus on the small victories.
Celebrate the one cat that did get a wonderful home.
Read a book.
Take a break and walk around the neighborhood admiring the trees and flowers. Sing a song, loudly and out of tune, in the car on the way to work. It’s okay to have a moment of happiness in these troubled times. Even keeping up with the laundry is a victory to celebrate some days. And at an animal shelter, we have a LOT of laundry! When it’s neatly folded and stowed on the nicely labeled shelves, it’s a thing of beauty.
Other victories, built on baby steps over the years, involve me driving on my own to places I never would have before. I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my early 30s. Then I didn’t drive on the freeway until I was about 40. Of course, the Google Maps lady on my iPhone has made a huge difference in my bravery. (I have remarkably poor orientation for someone who used to draft maps as part of my job.) Yesterday, I celebrated 2 victories–driving the shelter van on the freeway, and driving it with animals inside! I feel extra apprehensive when I am responsible for lives other than my own.
The caption to this cartoon is about happiness. I celebrate these examples as small victories as well.
Sitting out in the sunshine (that’s where I started this conversation) can itself be a small victory on a busy day.
I have been revisiting John Denver’s song catalog lately, mostly inspired by Sunshine on My Shoulders. It’s a sweet, simple, but poignant song, and a good reminder to embrace feelings of happiness and joy, however small they might seem.
Near the end of John Denver’s life, people made fun of him. It was cool to NOT like John Denver. I always liked John Denver, but I went through that period of wanting to fit in so badly that I pretended NOT to like things and people that I did and to like things I people that maybe I didn’t care about as much. I feel really bad about that now. John Denver, if you can hear me from wherever sing/songwriter souls go when they pass along to the next stage, I apologize and I proudly sing Sunshine on My Shoulders again.
I remember the anti-John Denver sentiment from the period when he was lobbying to be the first civilian in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger. The punch line was “Help send John Denver into space–one way!” He didn’t go on the Challenger mission in 1986. When the Challenger exploded on take off, NASA’s plans to send civilians into space were ended. All 7 crew members were killed. I remember watching the tragedy on television.
John Denver was a flawed human being, absolutely. But every one of us is flawed. It doesn’t mean we should hold him up in disdain for the contradictions between his clean, wholesome (okay, nerdy) image and his battles with drugs, alcohol, and marital infidelity. At one point in the 1980s, the University of Colorado campus newspaper ran an essay contest called “When did you first learn to hate John Denver?” And there’s the rub. I never hated him. I just pretended to, which is even worse. Peer pressure is, in my opinion, a form of bullying. And that is not cool.
I was never cool or popular, and I cared a little too much about it as a teenager and young adult. I agonized over what to wear, who to like, why boys ignored me. At one point I tried a little too hard to break out of my introvert shell and had a disastrous tryout for high school cheerleader. It was bad. Really bad. Humiliating. I never did that again!
But people were kind to me afterward, not cruel as so easily could have been the case. Now, I still care maybe a little too much about what others think of me, but I am much more accepting of who I am and what makes me happy.
I have fond memories of watching The John Denver Show on television in the early 1970s. In 1974, his Back Home Again album was a hit, mostly because of the songs Thank God I’m a Country Boy and Annie’s Song. The song my friends and I loved to sing was Grandma’s Feather Bed (written by Jim Conner), to which we not only sang, but jumped up and down on the beds and had pillow fights to while singing along.
Jumping on beds while having pillow fights is one of those acts of anarchy and rebellion we cherish as children. I still have my acts of anarchy, too. Mostly they revolve around socks with attitude. I might be smiles and sunshine to all appearances, but my socks are telling it like it is. Of course, no one sees the socks unless I pull up my pant legs, but I know what they say. I have socks for every mood. I love my Blue Q socks. They make me feel victorious.
I throw off the yoke of oppression and declare my love for John Denver songs, the Hallmark Channel, and the ocassional romance novel. Call me sentimental, silly, whatever. I don’t care and you can kiss my grits if you don’t like it! (Southern sayings are great, by the way.)
Love the things you love, don’t pretend to love the things you don’t (unless tact and good manners make it the kind choice), and celebrate the small victories.
As soon as I am done tickling this kitten, I am going to go sing while folding laundry, and then maybe sneak in a few minutes with a good book. Best day ever.