the strength of character I seek

In my life, I seek to be like my late great-aunt Vi, who never stopped in her practice of her faith.

I have unending respect for Vi. She was a teacher who, in the 60s, taught her fourth-graders lessons about human rights and dignity, issues people were dying for daily in those years.

My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996
My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996

She did more than teach those children. She sent money to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as evidenced by a letter now in the archives of The King Center, dated April 20, 1967.

“You have been in our fourth grade Hall of Fame for many years,” she wrote to this great leader, “but never have I held you in such high esteem as since your strong statement against the war in Vietnam.”

She went on to refer to a slide show she’d seen of children affected by napalm. She was appalled.. In response, she sent a check to Dr. King “for (his) peace efforts,” and told him she prayed for him daily.

If she said she prayed for him daily, that’s what she did. There was never a truer Christian than Violet Panzram. Her faith led her to action and compassion, and a kindness that shown like a beacon.

In her 86 years no doubt she faced trials that tested her strength, character and faith, but I have no idea what they were. A few years ago, I found myself wishing I knew more about how she worked through her dark days as I faced my own.

I’d been betrayed by someone I trusted to a point where I’d lost my career, my home and my trusting nature.

I’d been betrayed by someone I trusted to a point where I’d lost my career, my home and my trusting nature. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my friends, nor did those who knew me best stop believing in me, and never did they believe the horrible lies that spread through our community.

I realize that because of mental health issues, I’m limited in some of the ways I can change in my behavior. There are times when the beast within me takes control, and I struggle to fight without fully realizing what’s happening.  I’ve sought changes in my life, but some won’t come until I learn other hidden truths & solutions, or until I die and shed the constraints I’m bound by in this life.

Me
Me

Yet thankfully there are changes no amount of depression, anxiety or the multitude of issues I deal with can halt. Some of those changes include the excellence of character my great-aunt demonstrated, so I pursue that through the choices I make every day.

Surely Vi had her good days and bad, perhaps not in the same manner I experience them, but with their own restrictive features.

I move forward, and trust I’ll be a better person tomorrow, and even better the day after. I’ll always have my faults and my failures that anger and frustrate those around me, but I pray the good in me will be what’s remembered when I’m gone.

Featured image credit: (candles) © 9comeback — fotolia.com; (background) © lpopba — Dreamstime.com; (background) © Leksustuss — Dreamstime.com.

moving forward

Earlier this week I alluded to the “rabbit’s hole” I speak of in this post.  In honor of a new era,  I’m reposting this piece, a favorite of mine:

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting alone in a crowd, anxiously searching for a familiar face.

I was expecting a friend–until her text  told me not to. Now I was faced with sitting by myself at a celebratory service that would no doubt be an emotional, spiritual, uplifting experience (it was). I started looking for anyone I might know, a bit nervous but not wanting to seem so.

Thankfully, someone did appear, a more than gregarious man, well-known for being a bit of a character.  I’d only met him once for all of thirty seconds, but I didn’t hesitate to call out his name and invite him to join me. He did, and it made that service a whole heck of a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until days later it hit me:

this was not only the first time I’d had the courage to do something that bold, but I hadn’t thought twice about it. For years I’d sat alone in services and what-have-you, often because I was too frightened to reach out to someone and ask them to join me.

This was another significant change in me I could count as the result of terrible betrayal.

All my life I struggled with being pushed around by co-workers, boyfriends, classmates, even family. I simply could not stand up for myself. Try as I might, I was unable to say what needed to be said, or even imagine what that should be. Instead I would stand there, dumbstruck, humiliated and frustrated.

I desperately wanted the ability to detect when others were pushing me around.

That is, if I were sharp enough to see what was going on. Sometimes I’d be pushed pretty far before I realized it.

When that happened, I was left with shrinking further or getting back at people, although more often than not they brought on their own trouble with their back-handed behavior. I didn’t like dealing with things either way, however, it never felt good.

Instead, I desperately wanted the ability to detect when others were pushing me around and belittling me long before it got out of hand. More than that, I wanted to project an attitude that precluded demeaning treatment. I just couldn’t come by it. I had no idea how it worked.

Eventually I was pushed down a rabbits’ hole into a hell that wouldn’t end,

and it was that experience (a story requiring too much detail to go into here) that finally gave me the insight and ability to stay ahead of those who would defeat me. It took a long time, well after the peak of the horror, to fully develop the skills to face others with confidence and enough of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that I could claim victory. Have I fully stepped away from the problem? Likely not, but I’ve figured out what steps to take.

I also realize I need to use those circumstances to my advantage, to work toward bringing me to a point where I can say, “well, I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I’m glad it happened.”

I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll be there, but I look to the good that’s come of out this, and it has been substantial. I used to resent being told “everything happens for a reason.”  While I believe good can come from bad, that doesn’t justify the bad.

I like what Dumas had to say. It acknowledges the bad, but gives proper credit to an overwhelming and affirming end result:

“Women are never so strong as after their defeat.”
― Alexandre Dumas, Queen Margot, or Marguerite de Valois

blue sky balloons

I hate that it took such drastic circumstances to bring about this change for me, and I sometimes wonder, if those events hadn’t conspired, would I still be where I was then, or would I have found another way to grow to where I am today?

I don’t want those responsible for my plight to believe there’s any justification to their actions. Likely they would have preferred I was left in defeat and despair anyway. Is success the best revenge? I don’t know that I’m seeking revenge, but success is by far the best outcome.


Image Credits: Butterfly field (Field of Daisies) © adimas – Fotolia; (Butterfly) © ecco — Fotolia; Balloons Flying High (Sky Background) © Andrii Salivon – Fotolia; (Balloons) © JRB – Fotolia.

sibling revelry

Today I called my brother with some upsetting news. Once again, factors beyond my control were thwarting my plans to move forward.

He was the only one who would fully understand how challenging it would be for me, because he’d been with me from the start of the events that led to the distress of today.

My brother was there for me before I even knew I needed him.

belinda-thom-1962

Growing up, we weren’t close. It was my brother and sister who were allies, often, it felt, against me. Certainly I was on the outside.

Yet we share a history, sometimes a laughable yet now bonding one. Once, he asked if I remembered the cookie-eating bear from the Andy Williams Show, a popular variety program in our childhood.

I didn’t, and he was legitimately shocked, because I have a tremendous memory. He calls it memory for useless trivia, which is a little hurtful, because my memory includes much more than that.

Some months later there was a two-hour A&E biography about Andy Williams that I watched start to finish, just to see if this cookie-eating bear would be mentioned. He was, almost as an afterthought, in the last 30 seconds.

I sat through two hours of a biography I didn’t give a rip about just for my brother. I’d do an incomparable amount more if I could.

At the end of my phone call today, I gulped out a thank you for listening to me. He said, with a bit of surprise, “of course!” He’d said the same thing several years ago when I thanked him for flying out, at great expense, to be by my side at a time I can’t conceive of surviving alone.

He took over when I was absolutely lost, and later let go when I’d regained my strength, focus and independence. I’d never known what it was like to have someone value me that much before.

He’s two years younger than me, an age difference that become irrelevant sometime around high school. We started to connect more then.

I remember a sweet, red-haired girl who had, to say the least, a huge crush on him. We had a class together, and she talked about him endlessly to me. I really wanted him to reciprocate her feelings, but I knew full well he did not.

I was, however, proud of the way he treated her. Although he was clear he wasn’t equally interested, he let her know he thought her interest was a high compliment. Of course that just intensified her feelings for a time, but it was the right way to handle it.

me & Thom 1994
circa 1994

Now he has a daughter, sixteen years old, who no doubt brings all the frustrations a girl that age can carry. I hold my breath, then relax, as I watch him value her in the same concrete ways he values me and valued that cute girl in our high school years.

He’s proven there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for me. In a lifetime we may or may not be lucky enough to fully show our love for those who mean the most to us.

I’ve been blessed to be on the receiving end of that love and sacrifice from my brother, a humbling and heartening experience for me. It has changed the core of me, my essential self.


A special thank you to those of you who have been following my blog long enough to remember this post!

moving forward

Some of you have seen this already, but here’s a post from a couple of years ago that means a lot to me. By the way, thanks to those of you who have been following my blog that long!

My World With Words

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting alone in a crowd, anxiously searching for a familiar face.

I was expecting a friend — until her text  told me not to. Now I was faced with sitting by myself at a celebratory service that would no doubt be an emotional, spiritual, uplifting experience (it was). I started looking for anyone I might know, a bit nervous but not wanting to seem so.

Thankfully, someone did appear, a more than gregarious man, well-known for being a bit of a character.  I’d only met him once for all of thirty seconds, but I didn’t hesitate to call out his name and invite him to join me. He did, and it made that service a whole heck of a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until days later it hit me:

this was not only the first time I’d had the courage to do…

View original post 582 more words

Hidden Truths, Secret Sorrows

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our face is a mask, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent.

Recently a friend of mine was taking an online test about reading emotions, and not doing too well. She was frustrated. I suspect the test was flawed in multiple ways, and even if she did read the emotions correctly, there’s never any way to be certain of the reason for the feelings. We can’t read minds, and we don’t know all that is happening in anyone’s life.

Someone may smile at something we said because it ties in with a conversation they had only a moment before. We’re unaware of what was said, however, and think they’re smiling inappropriately at our tale, and become frustrated. It happens everyday.

That’s a simple misunderstanding. Just as we don’t know what is spoken in the moments before we join a discussion, we most often have no way of fully knowing what’s happening in the lives of those around us. People are discreet enough generally to keep their private lives private, and sometimes they do so almost to a fault.

I have a friend who was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s last year, and I never knew until shortly before her mom died. She and I had been working on a project together and I’d wondered why she’d lost her enthusiasm for it. Was it something I said? Had I been too controlling? I can get stuck in my ways. Now, that could have been the case, but more likely, she simply had other priorities.

She kept up a brave face around me, and maybe wondered why I never asked how her mom was doing. You see, others knew. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have known. We live in a communication age, but our own personal interactions frequently suffer from presumptions and assumptions all around. We rely too much on expectations and, as I alluded to above, expressions of emotion.

How we view our peers and others around us is more than just reading facial expressions, of course.

As well as how they view us. We’re born with a look that defines us, or helps others think they can define us. We grow and mature and that look changes and develops with us, but never truly reflects all that we are. It limits our definition of ourselves to other people.

When I was in high school, I peripherally was friends with a young woman, a year older than I, who to this day I’d have to say was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Another woman in my group described her by saying, “she looks like a cover girl, only she hasn’t been airbrushed.” The only person to come close to matching her beauty (and it may be a tie) was her younger sister.
woman eyes with flower, color pencil drawing, eye contact. Computer collage.
But beauty had its price. Let me add here these were two of the nicest, most sincere women you’d ever meet as well, and their parents were great people. Yet despite all the kindness they’d show to others, they were subject to vicious rumors and gossip simply because of petty jealousy. They faced other problems directly related to their looks, such as expectations from men when they were far too young to handle that sort of thing, and so on. It wasn’t fair.

The older girl, my friend, was often cautious around other people, knowing what they would be saying as soon as she left the room. That in turn led to talk she was “stuck-up” because she’d be reluctant to open up to someone new, or even those she knew well enough already.

We make judgments sometimes to feel in control of a situation. If we understand what’s going on, we can deal with it, so we seek an answer — and run the risk of being horribly wrong.

How do we discern a person’s heart?

Respecting another’s privacy is an important value to many of us, and in doing so, we also must respect we will likely give up some knowledge we may find useful, whether we have a right to it or not. That knowledge includes the ability, at times, to fully understand someone’s painful history and appreciate their distant behavior as a symptom of that aching within themselves.

I do believe we should, in general, live with an attitude every person is far more complex than we can recognize when we first meet them. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, understanding we don’t know what secret sorrows they face, is the gracious thing to do.

Having that open mind and open heart, giving others a chance to reveal themselves, will help teach us the perception and insight we seek. It is immensely rewarding to be the one who discovers the cold and bitter outsider is a warm, kind person waiting to be loved.

Yes, we must always use discretion when reaching out to others to save ourselves from being taken advantage of by manipulative and greedy people. A slow and steady approach of grace with the counsel of others is always wise.

Grace, wisdom, warmth of spirit. Gifts of human kindness that can change the world.

Oil painting nature grass flowers- yellow dandelions

 


Image Credits: (Masks) © tereks — Fotolia; (Face) © jozefklopacka — Fotolia; (Flowers) © nongkran-ch — Fotolia

The Truth Within

Three years ago I almost lost a good friend, largely over a misunderstanding.

Another friend stepped in and tried to straighten things out, and in doing so, made the already shaky relationship we had that much worse.

Female figures handmade oil painting on canvasShe chastised me for committing an offense I truly couldn’t see I was guilty of having done, citing a conversation I’d had with her husband as another example. By this time, I’d reconciled with the first woman, so I asked for her perspective about what our mutual friend had told me. I was concerned I might be blind to what would be a fairly significant problem.

She didn’t see the issue the same way, but I remained aware of this potential flaw in my character. Eventually I realized the problem was more likely something I’d already known about my second friend. She will not only defend her husband regardless of what he’s done (and for the most part, I can’t fault her for that), she will lash out at other people who dare to challenge him.

In this case, in my conversation with this man, we’d disagreed about an issue I strongly believe in. Typically with him I let go, even when I know he’s spouting baloney, because it isn’t worth it to disagree. This time, however, I stepped in it, rather than around it. I don’t apologize for that. I should have done it more often.

You can’t trust the “constructive criticism” that comes from a woman who is defending her husband, no matter how sincere she might be, or might think she is being, in trying to help a challenging situation.

Which brings it all back around to my response to her comments about this perceived flaw. I was inspired to write about this after reading K E Garland’s post, Monday Notes: Agreement #2, in which she discusses the second of the Four Agreements (from the book of the same name): “never take anything personally.”

The crux of this agreement is we take neither criticism nor praise personally, because it reflects the other individual’s state of mind, which can change with the wind.

I believe we should weigh what others say, both the good and the bad, but ultimately, we have to decide for ourselves what the truth is in any given situation.

lovely woman handmade oil painting on canvasHigh school was a challenging time for me, and there were plenty of days my appearance showed the depression, anger and hurt I was feeling so deeply. I could always count on my friends Leigh and Sue to compliment my hair or tell me I’d lost weight on those days. Trust me, the compliments reflected their kindness, not the truth about my hairstyle or figure.

Most of the time, our friends aren’t as transparent as Leigh and Sue were (and I’m thankful to this day for their friendship). But, on the flip side of my bad hair days in adolescence, if I know my new haircut is flattering, the faint praise of someone whose opinion I value shouldn’t throw me. She may be sinking underneath some pain she isn’t willing to share.

Trusting yourself is a scary thing. If you’re going to be truly honest, you know you have blinders. Still, that same honesty can save you when others are less faithful to the situation.

Be true to yourself.


Image Credits: (All) © RomanBen — Bigstock

Quirky, Quality, Goofy

Once, in junior high, in that typical, foolish, heartbreaking way we all seem to have of discovering the truth about our true love’s feelings, my best friend asked the boy of my dreams if he liked me.

“Well, kind of,” he said, “but she’s kind of, you know, different?”

I was crushed. It was, after all, junior high, and I wanted to fit in. Flash forward twenty years, and I’m breaking up with my boyfriend. He’s apparently still in junior high and feels a need to hurt me in as many ways as possibly during our final discussion.

But he’s unsuccessful, in part because he starts out with this: “you’re kind of offbeat, you know? Different?”

Nailed it, possibly for the first time in our relationship. Finally seemed to show some sort of understanding of who I am. A little offbeat, beat of a different drummer, all that.

Except as one wise man once told me, everyone who’s anti-establishment is anti-establishment in the same way, and the same holds true with being offbeat.  It’s not as different as all that. It’s just another way of being in this world.

It’s taken me a long time to finally appreciate that with all my quirks, my socialgirl faux pas, my awkward moments — and those are bountiful — I’m still at heart someone who offers more than she takes, and that is immensely valuable in today’s world.

My friends like me for all of quirks, qualities and goofy ways. They like me despite my screw ups and because of my kind heart and sense of humor. They are quality people, so I’ve begun to see myself as one, too.

You are known by the company you keep, and you know who your friends are when trouble washes over you. My friends have proven my best qualities, time and again.

So here I stand, and here I stay.

dollarphotoclub_72133828

 



Image Credits: © UBE — Fotolia

Wisdom and Roadblocks

I’ve been binge-watching the show Younger for the last few weeks, and in addition to being entertained by the program, I’m intrigued by the idea of going back in time and starting over, knowing now what I wish I knew then.

I remember my twenties as agony, my thirties as much greater fun. As my body calls out with daily new aches and pains, I long for the time when age wasn’t catching up with me. With what I’ve learned up to this point in my life, think of what I could do with all that health.

me-c-1987
Me at 27 — or 29 — doesn’t matter, it was a long time ago.

There are moments, somewhat fleeting, when I’d love to be 27 and have the full opportunity to start a new career, with a lifetime of growth in that field ahead of me. In my mind, I can picture myself as professional, successful, innovative, and admired for my deftness in cutting edge work. I have long hair and a stylish wardrobe, and if my lipstick wears off, I doesn’t dangerously age me.

As intriguing as the idea of a second chance may be, it discounts the opportunities available to me today. Yes, youth has its advantages and its appeal in the workplace. But for many, too many, it comes with limitations, arrogancy and insecurity.

Younger isn’t a going-back-in-time show, it’s a pretending-to-be-14-years-younger-than-you-really-are show. The reality is, I do, in fact, look younger than a lot of women my age. Not 14 years, but enough. It’s heredity, and I’m thankful for it. Still, not enough to pretend I actually am in my 40s, with all the opportunities that still exist for women of that generation. That’s because, at some point, in some way, I’d have to return to the angst of that decade. And as Younger shows us, you can’t escape who you are.

I’m best at being who I am today. At times confused, somewhat scared, yet more than anything else, optimistic. In recent years I have been blessed with greater wisdom and insight, and a more relaxed attitude toward life. I don’t worry as much about what others think, I see through the lies and pandering of popular media, and I’m better about standing up for myself. Far from perfect there, but I no longer fear the consequences of saying “you can’t treat me like that.”

There is a reason I am where I am today, and given the chance to take my life experience and place it in my resurrected 27-year-old body would fail the human experience somehow. I am meant to be taking risks, making friends, loving my family and defining my priorities in part by the age I am, with all the gifts and drawbacks that brings.

october-2016
Me today. Yes, I’d prefer it if wearing my hair long didn’t age me. But in the scheme of things, that ranks low on the happiness scale.

Authenticity and being true to oneself are such lofty terms. I don’t seek my authentic self. That self is already here. I seek integrity in my actions, reality coupled with creativity in my goals, and those precious moments when my cat curls up in my lap and purrs himself to sleep. I have my insecurities, but they don’t dominate my life like they used to do. I have my responsibilities, and I seek to meet them.

Authentically, honestly, I am 56 years old. That brings baggage and relief, wisdom and roadblocks. It is like any other age, with limitations, frustrations and opportunities. Life is a journey, one you are constantly having to re-navigate. Thankfully the tools get better with age. After all, I now have more wisdom and experience to break through those roadblocks.


Radical Authenticity

Perfectly Me

While my hand is healing, I’m bringing out some favorite posts from the past many of you may not have seen. This was first posted in December, 2015.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”
― W.C. Field

rollerskating girl
Not me. Not now, not ever.

I can’t roller skate.  Nor can I bowl,  or do a pull-up. I don’t expect to ever be able to do any of those things, and they’re no longer important to me. At one time they were, and that stayed with me for way too long. But I’ve gotten over it and accepted my limitations.

I didn’t stop trying to learn how to bowl until I was in my 30s, when finally someone told me it was acceptable not to have that particular skill.

He didn’t word it quite like that, however. We were at a bowling alley with a group from church, and he was splitting his time between reading a book and talking to others.  When I mentioned what a terrible bowler I was, he shrugged his shoulders and said, with a laugh, “Who cares? It’s not something I want to be known for anyway.”

Okay, a bit snobby. It did lead me to think, however, is this really me? Is it a goal of mine to be a better bowler, or is everyone else in my circle telling me it should be?

There’s a point where you ceaselessly persevere, and there’s a point where you say, is that even a skill I truly want to master? I had no real interest in bowling, I’d just been told over and over not to give up, I could do it if I tried.

But I couldn’t. I tried and tried, and my body would not cooperate. What’s more, I likely never would have gotten to a point where, even if I could hold my own in a game, I would have looked forward to it. I did not want to bowl.

Once I figured out that hanging onto a group of friends whose main activities I didn’t enjoy was fruitless, I was a lot happier. It took some time, but gradually I developed friendships with people whose faces lit up when they talked about doing the same things I wanted to do.

happy dance girl
Yes, I know, this isn’t a waltz!

That’s not to say I’ll always avoid everything I’m not particularly good at doing. I would love to be able to dance, an old-fashioned waltz, perhaps, but it’s fair to say even at my best I won’t be entering any contests. That’s not my goal, at least not at this point. Right now I’d be happy to keep the beat.

(I have learned something about dancing over the years…call it sexist, or call it practical, but as we all know, men lead. With a strong lead, even a woman who isn’t a good dancer looks good. So half my battle will be finding the right partner.)

I’m not limiting myself only to friends who share my interests, either. Some of my best friends (a-hem) are bowlers, and good ones at that.

I don’t have to be the best, or even particularly good, at any given skill to enjoy doing it. I have my expert talents, and I have those I fumble with.  It’s that mix of abilities and experience that makes me who I am, perfectly me.

“Proper” Wisdom

A high school teacher once told me, “the true meaning of sophistication is knowing what to do in the situation you’re in.

Admittedly, that doesn’t make me any more sophisticated than with the popular definition, but it does give an added dimension to the ideas of sophistication, elegance and grace.

AdobeStock_96443843 [Converted] c geosap nbgHow many of us have been in a social situation in which we feel like a duck out of water, surrounded by graceful, sleek panthers? They slide from one individual to the next, mysterious, powerful and so, so pretty, while we waddle and quack.

Maybe the best thing to do is find a party for ducks. If true sophistication is knowing what to do where you are, maybe leaving is the most gracious option available to you.

That’s not failure. For one thing, some people are naturally more comfortable in a social situation. I’m generally not one of those people. I like my small groups and familiar situations. I can survive in a crowd, but I’m probably not having fun.

adobestock_101089233-convertedWhen to make an entrance, how to make an entrance, and when & how to exit are prime social skills. If you’ve got those down, record that under “elegance.”

And just think how awkward those panthers would feel at a party for ducks. Assuming they don’t eat us alive…

Image Credit: © Geosap — Fotolia
Elegant

The Winding Path That Has No End

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Seeking your goal has a predictable life cycle. You may or may not encounter all the stages described below, and you may face some more than once. It’s all a journey.

A stone walkway winding through a tranquil garden.You start out and the path looks kind of like the start of the Yellow Brick Road. So pretty, so tranquil. It’s exciting, you have butterflies, and yet you’re strangely relaxed. A little relieved. You anticipate success.

For awhile you experience some. Things are leveling off a little, though. It’s maybe not quite as thrilling as it was at first, but you’re still happy and determined to pursue your dream, because you believe it will open doors for you that are otherwise closed tightly shut.

Then, perhaps, you get discouraged. It’s not what you expected, your skills and talents aren’t as great as you thought or had been led to believe. You’re a diamond in the rough, not as polished as you need to be.

So you take stock, add a few intermediary goals, and move forward.

Young girl on the winding mountain trekking path at Pico do AreeBut what happens when it looks overwhelming? For years I literally had nightmares about a mountain path such as this one. Narrow, with a plummeting drop to the side. In this case, heavens, on either side. You pray, you cry, you say no way. Then you find a way to make it safe, and you walk the path.

In my nightmares, I’d wake up, afraid to go back to sleep. Instead I’d lie awake and imagine a grassy field extending to the side of that precarious path, a safe place to land. You may need to find that metaphorical field in your own pursuit. Don’t let your dreams become nightmares.

Sometimes there’s a divide in the path, with no clear indication which way will keep you on track to achieving your goal. Decisions are difficult. Get a good night’s sleep. Take the counsel of others.

crossroadsIt is good to set goals, but it is also necessary to re-evaluate those goals from time to time.

If you expect to write six novels in six years, with each one becoming a best seller and at least one winning the Pulitzer Prize, ask yourself what you’re doing to achieve that goal. Are you getting your master’s in fine arts/writing? That kind of high-level writing takes particular skill, and it helps considerably to have direction in refining it.

But if your hope is simply to finish your current novel and get it published, that is more reasonable for most people. From there you research what it takes to get it done, evaluate your own skill, the market for the genre you’ve chosen, if an agent is a good idea, that sort of thing.

And if you find you’re not getting it done, take some time out to figure out why. I believe in having short-term and long-term goals, plans you can easily see achieving and dreams that can only come true with faith and a miracle. Give yourself a break if you keep failing in reaching your goals, and perhaps change them. There may be a legitimate reason you’re not able to do what you set out to do, something you can’t see but is real all the same.

Path through a mysterious dark old forest in fogThe path is foggy sometimes. One step at time. The fog will clear.

Of course many goals require persistence. If you want it badly enough, it may be worth the falls and bruises, the perpetual failure until you break through to success. Many writers face that experience. Look for the wisdom of others, stepping outside the familiar circle of family and friends if necessary to find someone who can objectively look at what you want to achieve, advise you on its possibilities and what it takes to make it.

Dawn on the road in the forestFiguring out how to get it done, taking the path to get there, may be more valuable than reaching your goal. The lessons learned along the way will serve you in other areas of your life, in ways you can’t imagine because you don’t know what lies before you.

Life is a journey, a series of paths that lead to a destination that’s likely very different than what you anticipated when you started. Enjoy it, and share it with others.


Photo Credits: (garden path) © onepony — Bigstock; (mountain path) © rechitansoren — Bigstock; (divided path) © rasica — Fotolia; (foggy path) © denbelitsky — Bigstock; (sunrise path) © Givaga — Fotolia

As Good as a Feast

There is an alarming belief

that if you’re hungry, you’re grateful for anything, even stale or expired food. As long as it’s edible. Maybe, to an extent, that’s true, and certainly I’ve been shocked into reality when I’ve watched homeless men dig for food in trash bins. But our obligation to those in need goes beyond clearing out the pantry of all the old food we’ve finally figured out we’re never going to eat. We owe them dignity.

I was forced to go to food banks a few years ago, and it was appalling, some of the food I brought home. It literally made me ill to eat it. Now, some food banks buy most of the food themselves, and many accept donations of day-old bread and the like that are welcome. However, others rely on donations of canned goods and other food.

I got a jar of peanut butter once that was absolutely foul. It turns out the company had gone out of business many years before. Today, when I donate to food banks, peanut butter is on the top of my list, and I always buy a new jar of a name-brand product.

It is humbling going to a food bank.

It is humbling going to a food bank. You often wait forever, and sometimes have to sit through an interview where they assess your needs and ask you personal questions that seemingly have no connection to getting food. To end up with a bag of dusty cans and long-expired pancake mix is demeaning, heart-breaking. Yet you have to eat, so you end up with tasteless (at best) meals.

The food bank at my church, I’m proud to say, buys much of the food it gives out and supplements what it buys with food grown in a community garden. I’ve spent the last few weeks gathering tomatoes from a friend’s garden (with his blessing). Anyone with a tomato plant or two can tell you, they produce lots of fruit. Wonderful, juicy, fresh fruit that can be used in so many meals.

Vegetables in BasketThey also are known in the area as the food bank that treats the people who come to them in need with dignity and respect. (I must make note that my Episcopalian congregation is currently meeting in a Lutheran church, and it’s the Lutherans who started the food bank and should get credit for its success. The garden was my priest’s idea.)

The people who need help with putting a meal on their table sit next to you at work. They are the families a few doors down, their kids play with yours. Sometimes, it might even be you.

Give the food you would want to receive when you’re making a donation to a food bank. It’s as simple as that.


Photo Credit: © monticellllo – Fotolia


Feast

Layers and Secrets: A Message to My Friend, Part 2

Years ago a woman I knew casually was tragically killed in a senseless accident. Since her roommate was close friends with my roommate, I was in on a lot of details surrounding her death I would have preferred not to have known.

But one incident stood out in a humorous way. The woman who had died was a tough broad, whose style can best be described as “woodsman’s.”  There was little femininity about her, in appearance or manner. Yet hidden underneath her bed her roommate found not one, not a dozen, but hundreds of Harlequin romances. She had her girly side, you could say.
Two Woman
Since then my former roommate and I always speculate what friends and relatives will find “under the bed” when a loved one dies. We all have our secrets; few in my circle would ever acknowledge reading romance novels of that genre, but who knows what they’re pulling out from under their pillow as they prepare to sleep?

Some of those secrets can be heartbreaking to learn. Discovering your loved one had a secret love could be painful, perhaps even beyond what it needs to be. Decades ago, a friend of my mom’s was killed in a plane accident. She was a flight attendant (well, stewardess, it was that long ago), and up until a short time before this flight, she’d been having an affair with the pilot, who was married. They’d called it off and agreed not to fly together again, personally or professionally.

However, she was on call to work that day, and had to work to fill in for a sick colleague. Everyone on the flight died in the crash. When I learned their story, I wondered, did the pilot’s wife know about the affair?  Did she think her husband lied to her when he said it was over and he’d never fly with this young woman again? As far as anyone in the know was aware, the affair truly was a thing of the past. But that man’s wife may have lived out the rest of her years thinking otherwise.

Or she may never have known a thing about any of it.

As I write this I’m pondering what secrets I have that family and friends could learn after I die. Hopefully that’s ages away, but what if it happened sooner? I honestly can’t think of anything, yet I’m a private person, so there undoubtedly are things about me that would surprise others. Hopefully not dismay, but I make no promises.

I believe in keeping some secrets. It doesn’t need to be deceitful to go to your grave without revealing all sides of yourself to the world. Those who are left to learn the truth, however, need to be forgiving and kind, even to the departed.

(This is part 2 in a 3-part series on Layers and Secrets. Watch for part 3 in two weeks!)

 

Image Credit (Two Women) © Kriminskaya — Bigstock

Layers and Secrets: A Message to My Friend, Part 1

The day after my brother’s wedding reception, the family and a few close friends gathered at his and my sister-in-law Ann’s apartment.

It was about as a casual an occasion as you can imagine, so I took out my knitting. I happened to be using some beautiful hand-carved needles for a project made of angora and lambswool. Ann’s friend David, an artist, took note of the needles.

“They’re a piece of art by themselves,” he commented, and graciously asked me about what I was making. In turn, I told him how beautifully he’d sung the night before, something I’m sure he was used to hearing. David has a phenomenal voice; at one time he was a soloist in the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. Let me assure you that is an accomplishment.

We had a really pleasant conversation. Seventeen years later, I still look forward to the time we speak again. David later commented to my brother how nice I was, and my brother was  certain he hadn’t spoken to me. Nice? Not how viewed his sister.

I am nice, to a fault. But while I can be very, very good, I can also be horrid. Less so as I’ve gotten older, I suppose, but yes, I can be nasty. Family dynamics being what they are, I’m guessing this was a time when there was more tension between my brother and me than happiness.

December 2014
Friends typically are taken aback by this shot of me from Dec. 2014. I generally look so much “nicer.”

A few years ago I went through a hell I’m working hard to move past, and it changed me. Initially I found I was much better able to stand up for myself, and a layer of anger seemingly charged all of my actions. The anger still exists, but it’s only a small part of the whole now.

Sometimes, though, my anger and frustration can’t help but eak out, and I have to have a long talk with myself. I choose not to become someone who resorts to passive-aggressive tactics to communicate her feelings, but in order to do that, I have to monitor what I’m feeling and and why.

I am not someone it’s easy to get to know. I constantly surprise those who think they know me well with an offhand comment that reveals I’m not so naÏve or sheltered as they think I am. I frequently hide much of myself from others and conform to their image of me. It’s easier that way.

The blessing for me in all of this is I understand people are more complex than we often realize. I tend to be less surprised about someone’s hidden talents or quirks because I accept that that is the norm. We all have layers we hide beneath the everyday aspects of ourselves.

Layers, and secrets.

(A three-part series on Layers and Secrets.  Look for Part 2 next week!)

Layers

By What Authority My Decisions Are Made

I’ve gotten used to making my own decisions, and managing their consequences. It’s what I expect out of my life, and I can’t imagine another way of living.

In recent years I’ve seen first hand what happens when a person is no longer in control of his or her life, when others control every aspect of it and let power overtake their better qualities. It’s frightening, insidious and happening every day, all around us.
Hands in jail
It happens in jails and prisons. Clearly, there’s a reason the deputies and guards must be in control, but when the jail tells you when to use the bathroom and controls whether or not you have toilet paper, a big part of your humanity is taken away. Yes, these people have committed a crime, and some would say, “they’re getting what they deserve.” But jail and prison are meant for confinement from society, not beating one’s spirit until it is destroyed.

WomanIt happens, sometimes, between husbands and wives. Men who beat their wives, whose behavior is so erratic and unpredictable the women live in constant fear their simple comments will trigger a violent attack, have taken away a vital part of their spouse’s heart and mind. It doesn’t get better, not in the marriage. The women have to leave to regain their soul, and it takes a long time.

globe-304806_1280 pixabay smAnd it happens in some countries whose leaders make a mockery of human rights and dignity. Where you are born with infinite worth yet no one will ever let you fully express your own essential self.

Today, as Americans celebrate their independence, I am thankful for my rights to make my own decisions, whether wise or foolish, to explore my options in my choice of career and even hobby, to freely write what I choose on this blog.

I know many of you who read what I post here live in other countries, and it’s important to me you know I respect and admire many of the nations on this earth and the people who are loyal to them. Patriotism doesn’t mean you reject all others, for me, it’s an appreciation of what I have and a commitment to protect those rights.

God bless us, everyone.

 

 


Autonomy


Image Credits: (hands in jail) © zurijeta — Bigstock; (drawing of woman) © retroclipart — Bigstock; (globe) Pixabay; (fireworks) © Carlos Santa Maria — Fotolia