Flow in Writing & Life

I’ve been reading Ursula LaGuin’s blog posts No Time to Spare in book form on my Kindle. I’m interested just now in reading about aging…I’d like to write about it, too, and I’m trying. It’s a challenge, but I love when writing presents a new challenge. We’ll see how it works out for me, although LaGuin does a beautiful job. She has a way of making the profound seem like common sense.

The other thing I’m doing is writing with my Florida group. There are ten of us this year. Our leader gives us prompts and we write a page or so. Everyone reads aloud. This week’s prompt “A Memorable Teacher” was particularly difficult for me. I’ve been thinking about it since Friday, so five days. When you get to my age, especially if you love learning and seek it out like I do, you’ve had a lot of teachers, good ones and bad ones, horror stories and terrible bores.

What seemed obvious to me was that life is the best teacher. Marriage and children are profound teachers, too. I actually learned how to stay married (after two failed attempts) because of my sons. I didn’t want to put them through another divorce, so in spite of sometimes wanting to give up on my third marriage, I stuck with it. Because I loved my boys more than I’d ever loved any other human, I learned to compromise, forgive, and stand up for myself with a husband. I also learned how becoming a grandmother expands the capacity to love beyond limits.

Finally, I thought of who or what helped me and taught me how to maintain sanity and happiness through rough times. The best lesson I ever learned. My favorite teacher. The runner up taught me how to teach and how to love Shakespeare. That was a lot! The winning teacher was Brian, my yoga teacher. He wasn’t my first and he won’t be my last, but he was absolutely the best because he taught me how to truly inhabit my body.

Brian’s best lesson went something like this: “Close your eyes during practice. Don’t look at the people around you to see how they are doing the poses. Don’t compare your body to anybody else’s. Make this time about you and your relationship to your body, mind and spirit. Flow your own way through the poses. Find your own edge. Remember to breathe. Be grateful for your body and your breath.”

I was, by far, the oldest person in Brian’s class. I had the biggest belly. My hair frizzed and I didn’t wear make up because it would just melt off. I had to get over all that, and it was easy to do once I really understood what Brian was saying. It clicked in pretty quickly and I was good there with all the young and lithe yoginis. I was in my 40s when I went to Brian’s studio. Now I’m in my 60s. I still take his advice every day. Not comparing myself to any other is such a relief. Accepting my own limits is humbling and freeing at the same time.

Brian’s advice goes beyond yoga. It has helped me in other ways. Like with writing ~ I don’t compare my books to other authors’, I don’t compare sales, or calculate at what age others achieved success. I pay no attention to what level they’re at or how I do or do not measure up. I’m in my flow of writing and life and you’re in yours. It’s all good. Namaste.

Hopes for 2019

On January 1 the calendar’s a blank slate. Another chance to get things right. I always feel excited in a new year, ready to dig in to healthier eating and other habits, but I wouldn’t call these things resolutions as much as common sense. I’d just spent December in an orgy of sugar. It seems an obvious time to clean up my act. I made a great pot of vegetable soup yesterday. Also cookies for my husband as he likes them with his coffee in the morning.

Since I’m on the borderline of diabetes, I won’t be eating any of the cookies, although I sampled a few broken ones yesterday. I also won’t be having coffee, because that among other things had to go in 2018 when I did a deep dive into just what was wrong with my digestion. I changed a lot of things about what I eat, but I’m not crying. There’s an abundance of foods still available to me, and I intend to bring my blood sugar levels back to normal in 2019.

For the first time in many years, Al had the holidays off. Tomorrow he’ll be back on the job, but at least we got in a good binge of “Jack Ryan.” Eight episodes all gobbled up like another holiday treat. I’d recommend that series (it’s on Amazon Prime). It was entertaining but also made me think. Mostly about the plight of refugees. The show involved Middle Eastern refugees, but the news here IRL is all about those from Central America seeking asylum in the USA. Two young children died in December on the border while in US custody. We need to fix this broken system, and I hope it happens in 2019.

I read some great books in 2018; my favorite rock memoir was “Thank you Mr. Kibblewhite” by Roger Daltrey. He lets the reader in, almost like a friend. He’s frank and honest. He admits it hurt his feelings when Pete Townsend made disdainful remarks about his singing. Roger, Pete’s just jealous, because you and your voice both were gorgeous and onstage got all the adulation from the beautiful girls while he had to be satisfied with guitar obsessed men. He was so mad he frequently bashed his guitar to pieces.

I also loved “The Recovering” by Leslie Jamison. I’ve long had a fascination with drinking memoirs. I like to read about young rockers before they hit the big time and also about young drinkers and how they cope once they realize their drinking has surpassed all reason. I’m always rooting for the young rocker to make it big and for the old drinker to get sober. In fiction, I really loved Michael Connelly’s “Dark Sacred Night” the first of his Bosch series to feature Renee Ballard. Nancy Thayer’s “An Island Christmas” was a frothy delight. Kate Atkinson can do no wrong in my mind, and her 2018 novel “Transcription” came through as always. I loved Tana French’s “The Witch Elm” very much, too. Right now I’m in the middle of “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” by Stephen Hawking. I quite enjoy theoretical physics and Hawking writes in a clear style anyone can comprehend. Well, most of the time. I also am a regular reader of Buddhist thought and Mark Epstein’s “Advice Not Given” is a superb 2018 example of its kind.

Goodreads says I’ve read well over 900 books on my Kindle since they started tracking such things, and a very satisfactory moment in 2019 will be when I hit the 1,000 book mark, even though it’s a number without much meaning as I read books outside Kindle, of course. I buy them at book fairs and conventions and conferences. I buy them at real brick and mortar bookstores! Also I order a fair share on Amazon. I read more than literary mysteries, Buddhists texts, and memoir. Those are just the ones who stand out as being great in 2018. I’m sure 2019 will bring many new books, gee maybe I’ll even finish one of my own by the end of this year. I expect I will, since I have a first draft done.

I expect 2019 to be an excellent year for so many reasons and I hope your blank slate fills up with lots of joy, too. Happy New Year!

How to Find Holiday Happiness

IMG_4951When I was growing up, Christmas was a mixed blessing. Christmas Eve, all four of my grandparents visited. My teenage aunt and uncle came over as well. Everyone had gifts, and it would have been very fun except Grandpa was often roaring drunk, dressed as Santa and bearing gifts. He was jolly, though, and I wasn’t sure why my mother was so upset. Which made my father a bit upset. One year, Grandpa went to the wrong house and distributed our gifts to the neighbor’s children. That night began with hope and ended in tears.

By Christmas morning all that drama was forgotten. My memories of Christmas Day are of waking up to a Shirley Temple dream. Beautiful dolls and wonderful toys spread around the tree and all about the living room. There was no space where a toy was not. Nothing was gift-wrapped and my presents were in the middle of the room, with my brothers’ to each side. As the only girl, I knew what was mine. The little kitchen table and chairs, the sweet easy bake oven, with real cake mixes. The dolls, the velvet dresses, the necklaces and bracelets and the satin-lined box that opened to a twirling ballerina.

Christmas morning was always the best morning of the year. It’s why, despite knowing it’s not true, I still sometimes equate gifts with love, money with love, abundance with love. As a young single mom, I tried very hard to duplicate those Christmases for my own children. With very little money for gifts, I tried my best. I went into debt, even. I’m not poor anymore, but when I was, I could not afford to pay off my debt, so I stayed under its steady thumb, struggling just to pay the outrageous interest so my boys could have a semblance of what I thought of as a magical Christmas.

Christmas is why I became a romance writer. When life is too stressful, too harsh, too much to take, I make another world. One that can be difficult but always ends with the feeling of Christmas morning and its beautiful treasures. I remember that feeling and it’s what I went for in my HEAs, every month of the year. Now that I write crime fiction, there’s still that satisfying ending when the criminal is captured and the world is set right again.

When I’m not writing, I have other December ways to deal with unromantic reality. I watch Christmas movies, read Christmas novels, listen to Christmas music and deck the halls. I keep the tree lit and a fire burns all day long. There is absolutely nothing in my contract with life that says I have to remember the bad Christmases, like when my sweet granny died early one Christmas morning. I only found out when I got to her hospital room for a visit and found her bed stripped, the room devoid of flowers.

That year, and the next, my husband left me home alone so he could visit his family. And I was really alone because my boys were with their father almost every Christmas. He and I wanted to give the boys as much security and continuity as possible, so, most years I had Christmas Eve and he had Christmas Day. Sometimes, when I was home alone on Christmas, I went to visit Granny at the cemetery. I realize life is full of suffering much deeper than my own personal sorrows. Somehow, despite my own sadnesses, I mostly manage to find the holiday sweet spot, which is a feeling and not a place.

Psychology and science now know why bad memories are easier to remember than good ones. The bad times, the sad times, cut a painful impression with which sweeter moments cannot compete. Painful memories remain vivid because they are an evolutionary tool; they keep an awareness of possible danger, learned from experience, front and center to ensure survival. Just knowing this cheers me up and makes me more determined to celebrate life while I’m here.

We don’t have to fall in with those deeper impressions of pain. We don’t have to drown in them. I know several ways to beat the rough hand with which life often slaps us. I write down the good memories, I create new ones, or discover those written by others and read them over and over. Eventually, they replace the painful stuff, which these days I am adept at kicking away before it stomps me down.

People make fun of romance, or the sentimentality of Christmas. Many bemoan the commercial aspects of the holiday season, but that’s okay. I know many suffering Scrooges. I don’t wish to join their chorus. I would rather be happy baking cookies. Music, movies, reading and writing also help make the season bright. During the holidays, I like to sip hot chocolate by the fire and think about all the blessings in my life. Now that I’m older, I don’t need lots of gifts under the tree to feel good. My thoughts dwell on happy times, like Christmas visits with my own grandchildren.

My wish for readers of this blog is that you, too, can be filled with the magic of this season. xo

 

 

Postcard from St Pete

It’s hot today or maybe it’s because I have been busy all morning, making pancakes (hot stove), blow drying my hair (hot air), and starting the laundry. I would much rather be at the beach, like these people in the vintage post card. The day is a bit overcast but still warm enough for a stroll in the sand. We’ve been in Florida for five days now, finally starting to feel settled. Still have not been for a walk or a sunset on the beach.

When I grocery shopped I only bought fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Al hasn’t noticed yet that he is on the PBWF diet with me. We did go out to dinner last night with my dad, my brother and sister-in-law, Becky. A night off from cooking and also, full disclosure, I ate a filet mignon, paired with a nice pinot noir. I have not had a steak since I began straightening the curve months ago. Once Al leaves–he has another week with me here before he has to go back to work–it  will make sticking to a plant-based program much easier.

What I love about my diet-for-life is that once you’re in the groove, there are no cravings and no hunger between meals. It’s easy to step outside the diet and get right back on, which is not true of any other diet I’ve ever been on. Also, the energy levels go way up and I just generally feel sunnier. I’m hoping it is helping me inside as much as outside. I want to be below the pre-diabetes numbers I’ve been carrying around for a long time without giving it a thought. I wish I’d admitted to myself that most often pre-diabetes leads to diabetes.

In other news, I’ve been working on audio versions of The Paris Notebook. Almost done. Have a cute little office area now that my writing room has become a guest room. I’ll be writing much more after Al leaves, too, as my editor will be sending edits on the crime novel any day. It makes me wonder how we will work things out when he retires. My big idea is to sell our home in Michigan and move down here while scouting out a larger place. Just like Virginia Woolf, I need a room of my own. With a door. Ideally, one that opens to the Gulf of Mexico.

Letting Go

The doctor was pissed. She was a small Indian woman and it radiated off her like a heat wave. “You have to stop eating!” she said. “You’ve gained an enormous amount of weight in a small time. This is what you must do: No breakfast, a little tea, that is all…” I tuned her out. I already felt bad enough about the ten pounds I’d gained when I stopped smoking. But I wasn’t fat.

Then I saw my mother. At a big baby shower with all of her girlfriends there, she looked at me when I came up to the table and said “WHAT happened?” I said “Oh, it’s my blood sugar,” and sat down at the table. I was humiliated. I’d known these people my entire life and I was afraid to tell them I had gained weight. That was obvious. The blood sugar excuse just popped out instead of “I’m packing on the pounds, Mama.”

She knew. But she wanted it to not be true or she was embarrassed that this is what her daughter had come to, this was how her daughter had let herself go. Despite plenty of people at the table being my size or bigger, my mother rejected the notion that a daughter of hers could be overweight so thoroughly that she asked a stupid question with a look of horror on her face rather than just say “Hi, honey, glad you could make it.”

I have never understood that phrase “She’s letting herself go.” What does that mean? She let herself go to the refrigerator? She let herself go to the candy store instead of the beauty salon? People never say men “let themselves go” but if a woman allows her hair to grow in to its natural silver she’s “letting herself go.” If she doesn’t get a mani-pedi before sandal season, she’s “letting herself go.” If she refuses the gym, she’s “let herself go.” And heaven help the woman who wears anything in her wardrobe faded black or yellowed white or chosen an ill-matched outfit. There she is “letting herself go” again. No jewelry? No lipstick? No mascara? Letting herself go. Such a shame.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t wear a bra (and I needed one). I didn’t wear make up. I never got my hair cut, not even the frizzy ends trimmed. My jeans were faded and my tops were flannel shirts from the men’s department. I just really didn’t care about all the girly stuff. None of my friends did. But then I entered the working world and to fit in, had to get in line. Wear a uniform. Shave my legs. Attempt to paint my face. I even got contact lenses when a friend suggested it.

I’ve never been a slob. I take a shower and use deodorant. I brush my teeth. I comb my hair. When I think of someone who let’s herself go, I imagine a train wreck of a woman with a dirty face, filth under her fingernails, wearing too tight clothes that show her muffin top or wrinkled cleavage to unfortunate advantage. That woman is probably homeless and mentally ill. Letting herself go so far from the norm is probably a symptom of her disease. She needs help. She’s sad and alone and she’s not me. She needs a hug and a treatment program.

I don’t wear make up now that I’m retired unless my husband is taking me out to dinner or I’m meeting friends for lunch. Most days, I write in my pajamas. If I notice it’s getting on in the afternoon, I take a stretch break and throw on yoga pants. I recently found out I’m allergic to hair dye. My silver hair has grown in an inch or so. Yes, I’m letting it go natural. As women, we fight nature bleached tooth and polished nail. But I’m telling you, letting go feels really good.