Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Your Roll Deadly Dull? Is It Time to Live Your Passion?

Wake Up to the Passion

Passion has been on my mind since last week when I caught sight of this splendid passionflower. Its vivid colors woke me up to the idea of pursuing passion in life. I have not been able to ignore the concept because the R.E.M song, “Talk About the Passion” has since been playing in my brain. We don’t talk about passion much in America. Places exist where that kind of passion is put on display—sometimes public display— but conversation isn’t much in the mix. That kind of passion aside, as a culture we are too often silent when it comes to focusing on passion’s elements of exhilaration, excitement, and enthusiasm. A sign of adulthood in our society often means that passionate feelings toward endeavors are placed on a back burner; we become responsible, even grown-up, and follow whatever career path we have chosen, lackluster—and lacking passion—though it may be.
Passionate endeavors might be glimpsed in fleeting moments of clarity and longing, or brought to us in mini-media bites, but most often, we turn again to the reality of mortgage payments, groceries, and the tasks that beckon us to maintain our standard of living, such as that may be.
Maintaining a life standard is a good thing. Rather than occupy any park or street in America, I occupy my desk most days, and am part of the wheel that keeps this great country rolling along.
Roll along I do, but sometimes the roll is deadly dull, like that 100-mile stretch of I-95 in South Carolina where the highway is copy-paper flat, pine trees line one side of the road, and pine trees line the other side of the road. Expanses such as those put my psyche to sleep. Expanses of hours of rolling along and being part of our country’s wheel also put my psyche to sleep.
The R.E.M. song “Talk About the Passion” isn’t about passion. It’s about hunger, bodily hunger. The passion that currently tugs at my spirit is a different kind of hunger. It’s the hunger within each of us, the hunger that goes beyond food and comprises another sort of sustenance—the sustenance of the soul.
It’s no accident that after a string of days in which my roll was deadly dull I got my first sight of a bright orange-red passionflower. Not the beautiful muted blues, lavenders, and pinks of other varieties, this flower’s fiery tones beckoned me toward it and woke up my psyche from its dry and dreary doze. Few could resist waking after viewing the passionflower’s glorious hues.
This passionflower speaks to me in a language I sometimes forget to practice, one with which I too seldom communicate, but one that keeps nudging me, asleep though I often am. The prose it speaks reminds me that passion for life, for art, for creativity, for communication, is alive; it has its own language, but one that is too seldom spoken in our culture of acquiring, achievement, striving, stress. This passionflower reminds me that it’s time to not only talk about the passion, but also to practice it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Septuplets—At Age 59?

iMac Attacks, (i)Twitches, and (i) Need a Jump

A tangled mess, just like the last three weeks

“Septuplets.” I almost sent that as a text message to a friend on Friday. I rarely cry in frustration, but a week earlier, sobbing semi-hysterically, I called her after several days of iMac attacks when the spinning rainbow of doom arrived on my iMac’s monitor and decided it was there to stay. At first, I thought “No problem, AppleCare to the rescue.” An hour-long phone call ended with a drive to the Apple Store Genius Bar 80+ miles south. The spinning rainbow of doom continued to appear throughout the next week. After more support calls and another trip south, we had a diagnosis: Surgery was necessary to replace the hard drive. I had my backup MacBook and transferred a few folders, so I figured I could still work.
During those down days, I sent frantic e-mails to editor after editor with updates on my inability to meet deadlines. My aging laptop limped along until one morning the slightest touch resulted in horizontal lines covering the screen. The MacBook diagnosis was bleak: $300 to fix the screen. The laptop’s AppleCare expired years ago, and I didn’t want to spend that much, so I employed a little trick of tapping lightly on the edge to get the picture to reappear.
Hobbled, but not completely lame, I attached a mouse and keyboard to the USB ports so I didn’t have to even touch the laptop. I put it to sleep every hour because of its tendency to overheat and my fear that it, too, would crash and burn. Deadlines were further compromised.
In addition to editing, I recently started a new job submitting grant applications for a company that produces continuing medical education programs. The field is foreign to me, and the learning curve is steep. I neglected to transfer most of my CME-related files to my laptop, which put me at even more of a disadvantage.
File frustration, horizontal screen lines, missed deadlines, lack of sleep, trying to learn a new job, and a snippy comment from an associate resulted in tears of frustration and the emotional meltdown when I called my friend.
We talked about how sometimes everything seems to go wrong or break all at once. I remembered that a few months after my separation, when the kids and I felt so broken, everything else started breaking—appliances, the car, a huge hunk of wood propped up one of the cabinets to keep it from crashing to the floor. As we talked, I recalled a quote by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. In a story that reflects the title of her book, Traveling Mercies, she relates that some Buddhists believe that when several things start to go wrong at the same time—to break—it’s “to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”[i]
Wiping the tears and snot off my face, I had a new sense of anticipation about whatever this wonderful thing trying to get itself born would be. I stopped work for the morning and restored my psyche with a walk on the beach.
Days later, when I finally got the hard drive-replaced iMac home, the first thing I did was restore the wrong backup from two years ago. During a two-hour AppleCare call, I removed that backup and restored the correct backup. After more than two weeks, I could work on my iMac. Over the next several days, I tackled overdue projects. I still struggled with the grant applications, but pushed ahead. Tuesday, I hit another wall. I had to sign on to a Web site that can be accessed only with an upgraded version of Internet Explorer. Few versions of IE and certainly no current ones work on a Mac. I decided I would use my sister’s Windows laptop when I went to her house the next day.
Not so fast. Her laptop also needed the latest version of IE. I know enough about PCs to download and install a browser update. But no; this update could not be downloaded because the PC needed an updated OS. I gave up and instead helped my daughter Zen her new apartment. Ignoring the twitch that had developed in my left eye, I resigned myself to using a library computer the next day.
I had avoided the library’s Windows computers for a few reasons: I owed a whopping fine that I would first have to pay. The library computer’s time limit might not be enough to complete an application. There is no space for all my work stuff. When I need help, I cannot use my cell phone to call for assistance. And I don’t really know how to operate a PC.
Friday morning found me at the library, silent cell phone, checkbook, thumb drive, and files in hand. Ignoring the dirty hamper odor emanating from several patrons, I sat at the computer, figured out how to insert the thumb drive, got my files open, and browsed to the Web site, login name and password ready. Ten minutes later, I learned that no applications were being accepted in the area of medicine for which I was applying.
I sighed with relief, got help removing my thumb drive, and thought to myself: “Now I can get on with my other work and maybe accomplish something.” I felt almost perky as I sauntered outside to the car where my son was listening to the radio. He was surprised to see me because I was gone only 40 minutes, rather than an hour or longer. I sat down, buckled my seatbelt, and turned the key—click, click, click, click, click.
The car lights go on with the key, which was on for the radio, so the battery was dead.
“It’s okay, Mom, it’s okay Mom,” he said. Aware of my recent trials and fragile psyche, he knew I was teetering on the edge. He was right. I pulled the hood lever, got out of the car, and snatched the jumper cables from the trunk. “Find someone to give us a jump,” I ordered. I opened the hood, got grease on my hands, but only a few smears on my white blouse. I grabbed my cell phone, ready to text “Septuplets”—only septuplets could be this much trouble getting born. Before I could type, a pick-up truck pulled next to my car, but the cables didn’t reach. My son pushed the car backward (into a handicapped spot), the pick-up nosed in front of the car, we attached the cables, jumped the car, drove for 20 minutes to charge the battery, and then we headed home. I was productive for the balance of the workday, probably because I decided that whatever came next, I was simply going to laugh, even if it would have a rather maniacal tone.
I never sent the “septuplets” text, but continued to ponder what is trying to get born in my life, even though I think I figured it out early Thursday morning—right after I knew I couldn’t expect my sister to upgrade her OS, so I could update her IE browser, so I could finally get on that Website, so I could finally do some work about which I was not particularly thrilled.
This essay is long enough, but when I stepped away from my sister’s computer Thursday morning, I got a tiny glimpse of what is trying to get born in my life. Now I just have to distract myself for a few more weeks, so it can arrive as “perfectly as possible.”
I am pretty certain it isn’t septuplets.

[i] Lamott, Anne. Traveling Mercies. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999. Print.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winding Down Wednesday

Wonderful, White, Wheaty, Writing Wednesday

Weary Wednesday could be included in my alliteration because it’s 9:06 and I stopped working just moments ago. In an effort to focus on what’s was wonderful about Wednesday, I’ll instead note the most worthy aspects of the day.

Writing with my Waterman fountain pen: I wrote from 6:30 to 8 a.m. A worthy way to wend into Wednesday.

White Christmas cactus blooms whetted my appetite for more blooms to come in this month of Christmas cactus splendor.

Wheat was on the menu after the delightful scent of baking bread wafted throughout the house for a few hours.

                                What was wonderful about your Wednesday?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monarchs Don't Settle for Less—Why Should We?

When Is It Okay to Settle for Less?

Even Monarchs Sometimes Refuse a Flower

Migrating Monarchs loved the fall-blooming asters in my Massachusetts garden.

I don’t often see Monarch butterflies in my Florida flowerbeds, so when one visited last week, I noticed. Lone traveler that it was, I figured it was migrating a bit late from the northern climes in search of warmth and flowers, which were abundant in my yard that day. I watched and waited for the butterfly to light on a flower and replenish its supply of nectar before fluttering off to Mexico or maybe even Miami. It kind of had that “just passing through” aura about it. More than that, it almost seemed agitated, like a weary, wary traveler who has stopped at the first available rest stop, thrown the car into park, and run to the restroom before getting back on the highway and driving another 100 miles.
Unlike such a traveler who might be content to sling back a cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage to assist in completing his or her journey, the Monarch was having none of this fast-food business of drinking what was available and then dashing on its way. It had a certain drink in mind.

Desert Rose was a non-choice for the Monarch. Sweet enough for the Fritillary,
but it didn't make the cut for the Monarch.
Gerbera Daisies thrill most gardeners and flower shop patrons, but
the Monarch was blind to their charms.
My flowerbeds have flowers—lots of flowers—so I was perplexed as I watched the Monarch flit from flower to flower, yet only hover and not stop. Marigolds? Uh, uh. Heliotrope? Nope. Periwinkle? Not having it. Gerbera daisies? No way. Mexican petunia? No. Salvia? Guess again. Porterweed—a choice of coral or lavender? Not quite. Lantana? That’s a city. Buttercups? Yes, yes, and yes, but, and a huge but it was, Buttercups bloom only until about midday, and because Ms. Monarch was visiting late in the afternoon, the Buttercup blossoms were all closed. Again and again, Ms. Monarch fluttered down to the closed buds, lifted gracefully in flight, fluttered down again, and lifted again. Ms. Monarch flew about the other flowers and in a spirit of disdain, ignored them and continued to scan the Buttercups, only to find each bud closed tight, its nectar unavailable.
Had the Monarch come earlier in the day, this Buttercup
would have been open and nectar filled.
The more Ms. Monarch attempted to sip the Buttercup nectar, the more annoyed she seemed to become. Her flight became impatient as she flew close to the other—unwanted—flowers, and then again tried the unavailable Buttercup buds. I could almost sense a tantrum coming on and wondered to myself, “Now what would a butterfly tantrum look like?”
After a few more frustrated attempts at the buttercups, Ms. Monarch fluttered south across the yard and away—maybe Miami or Mexico might have what she wants.
As I watched the lone Monarch make its way to parts unknown, I thought about “knowing.” That butterfly knew what it wanted. That butterfly was certain what it wanted. That butterfly wanted Buttercup nectar and only Buttercup nectar and refused to settle for less. In my opinion, Gerbera daisies, marigolds, Mexican petunias, and especially heliotrope are far from “less,” lovely flowers that they are, but that didn’t matter to the Monarch. Painted Lady and Fritillary butterflies are thrilled with my other flowers, as are the bees, but Ms. Monarch wasn’t having any of them.
This Fritillary loves the marigolds, unlike the Monarch,
who wanted only Buttercups.
Ms. Monarch did not settle for less than what she wanted. I believe in compromise for certain, but watching Ms. Monarch helped me stop for a few minutes, and consider what it’s like to not settle for less so often. What it’s like to know what I want and to go for it. There’s a lesson in the refusal of the Monarch. In a culture where so much is available, it’s easy to take coffee from the vending machine when we want a clear, cold glass of water. It’s easy to accept little when we deserve so much. It’s easy to drink the nectar of the marigold when we really want a buttercup.
In what ways can I, can you, today and every day, look at the choices we have in front of us and decide whether we’re going to take what’s there just because it is there, or whether we’re going to search for the Buttercup?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No More Back to Black

Black Widow? Black Mood? Black Cloud?
Black Comedy? Black Sheep? Black Friday?

I Much Prefer Pink!

As a culture, Americans must come up with another name for the day after Thanksgiving. We go from being grateful for everything we have to being Black about what we must buy in the omnipotent American frenzy to acquire, to consume, and to be the first to acquire and to consume, even if it means reneging on the custom of lazing away a holiday weekend in the company of those we most love.
 “In the black” didn’t used to have such a bad name. Retailers anticipated the season when the books went from in the red to the profit line of in the black. That connotation—for retailers at least—has been lost in the new, negative connotation of Black Friday. Black Friday now includes the following dangers:

·      Being trampled to death
·      Having disaffected fellow humans walk by your prone, heart-attack-seized form to get to the next special
·      Being temporarily blinded by pepper spray
·      Being robbed and/or shot in a parking lot
·      Losing sleep to be the first in line
·      Fighting among the folks for whom someone must be grateful
·      Contributing to the massive influx of American money to foreign shores
·      Adding to personal debt
·      Filling our landfills with never-degrading plastic
·      Continuing one’s effort to fill the God hole with stuff

On post-Thanksgiving Friday, I stayed in my pajamas most of the day. (To be honest, I wore my PJ top all day, but late in the day, I donned a pair of well-worn, much-loved Levi’s.) I relaxed. I read a book, I puttered in the kitchen, I played with my plants, I returned recipes to the holiday section of my recipe notebook.
On post-Thanksgiving Friday, I also paid attention. On the day when news reports filled my psyche with so much that is wrong with our culture, I noticed something else. To herald the Christmas season, my Christmas cactus opened its first bloom. Shimmering pearl colors set off by bright pink edges demonstrated everything that can be right about the day—any day. Noticing and appreciating a gift of nature, a simple thing, a bloom on a plant became my gift to myself—a gift I share now. Next year, I’m going to start calling it Pink Friday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day Revisit of "The Walking--and Falling--Wounded"

Feeling Free? Thank a Veteran

Veteran's Day is today and I am rerunning a blog that originally was published on May 26, just before Memorial Day. Please read it again, and as you do, consider thanking a veteran today--and every day.

By Christine Clark
SEAL, that’s an animal that swims in the ocean? Wrong. Until about six years ago, that definition of SEALs was the only one I knew. My military-oriented son taught me different. Navy SEALs are a group of Special Forces soldiers, very, very Special Forces. Somalia pirates and the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden put the SEALs on the front page of every newspaper in the United States and on every news Web site for weeks.
The glory heaped on the SEALs has not gone unnoticed by those who would steal the honor of being a SEAL. The real SEALs have a group that has revealed more than 35,000 phonies. Steve Waterman, a retired Navy diver, stated, “There were about 500 SEALs…in Vietnam, and I’ve met all 20,000 of them.”
I knew the man I recently saw in a consignment shop near Daytona Beach was not one of the fake SEALs. A working man, he looked as if he had done some hard labor that Saturday. He was in the store to pick up some furniture for his fiancée. He wore a SEAL cap and had SEAL tattoos on both arms. “He’s a SEAL,” my son Paul said. We watched the SEAL out of the corners of our eyes and decided to just leave him alone. It’s only been a few weeks since the Bin Laden raid and we figured he was probably inundated with people talking about it. He did his service, and we felt he was entitled to shop in peace on a Saturday afternoon.
When I left the store, I stopped to chat with his fiancée while the SEAL and his son carried furniture to a waiting truck. I told her we wanted to thank him, but were reluctant. She said he doesn’t mind talking, often does speaking engagements, and that sharing his experiences helps him work through many of them. He served our country for 20 years and has been retired for 10 years. She told a story of him running during a battle, and wondering why his leg felt odd. He looked down and realized he had been shot in the foot. I noticed that he limped a bit as he walked to the store between loads and figured that was why.
We asked her to please give him our sincere thanks for serving our country. She said she would. I could tell she is so proud of him.
As we drove out of the parking lot, I happened to glance back, and saw that he had fallen onto the sidewalk near the truck. His fiancée and her son were next to him. We could tell he was not seriously injured so we went on our way. I caught a glance at his face and, to me, he looked embarrassed, like it wasn’t okay to fall. I don’t regret not stopping because it was obvious our presence would have been invasive.
The look on his face haunts me. I wish he and any others who have served us and served us so well, would never feel what I saw on his face. I believe it is okay for him and for thousand of others like him to fall, because without them, who knows how far our country and our very lives might have fallen?
Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day. It really is not just about beaches and barbecues. Thank a soldier not only that day, but every day.

SEAL stands for Sea, Air, and Land. The first Navy SEAL teams formed in 1942 during World War II in Ft. Pierce, Florida, just south of where I live. To find out more about the SEALs, the Navy has a site you can visit: http://www.navy.com/navy/careers/special-operations/seals/?campaign=search_Reprise/Google/SEAL+Navy/+navy+seals&sid=navy+seals.
If you want to know more about the history of the SEALs, Ft. Pierce, Florida, has the only, and very cool, I might add, Navy SEAL Museum in the United States (http://www.navysealmuseum.com). The most fun I’ve had in years has been at the annual Veteran’s Day Muster at the Museum in Ft. Pierce.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thankful While Walking the Dogs?

Gratitude for a Wide Berth of Safety

Rosie and Deek, my Black Lab-Virginia Coon Hounds, can be trying on the best of days. I’m not one of those “dog people,” even though I do love them. I’m not one to gush over animals, and Cesar would be appalled at my dogs’ behavior (as am I), but I take care of them and part of that care is walking them daily—several times a day.
Rosie and Deek’s keen desire to hunt means a daily walk is often a challenge; they sense, they sniff, they want to blast off into the woods and find whatever it is that produces that delightful aroma. At 5 foot, 2 inches, and 115 pounds, it can be difficult to rein in the two of them when the aroma beckons.
Since we left the two-acre-plus house in MA and I no longer can let the dogs loose into the fields, I know the saying, “keep them on a tight leash” is no cliché. I often must restrain them from more than the “chase,” because of other dangers of which they are unaware. Dim bulbs they are, these dogs have no clue that cars and trucks and vans will hurt them, so I also keep them on a tight leash whenever vehicles approach.
It is obvious that many drivers believe the speed limit is optional, so I take extra care when walking Rosie and Deek and often step off the side of the road to give us an extra-wide berth of safety. Not always, though. As soon as they see us, many, many drivers head as close to the center line as they can and if there is no oncoming traffic, they even go over that line to give us an ever-wider safety zone. Often, they smile and wave, and I smile and call out “Thank you.” (I can’t wave because I have a leash in each hand.) Two mornings ago, I was on our unpaved street and the approaching van almost steered off the road to give us extra room. I realized how thankful I am for the drivers that give so much consideration and care for my safety and that of Rosie and Deek.
It’s a little thing, but simply being aware of the many ways I can be grateful each day changes me and changes my environment, even when walking the dogs.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good Grief and Guacamole

A Step Away from Mourning and Back into Life

Ripe avocados sat on the kitchen counter. Still dazed from the aching, numbing grief that had taken over my psyche, my body, my everything, I glanced at them, barely seeing them. Six days earlier, I held my darling seven-year-old Alexa in my arms as she took her last breath, losing a sixteen-month battle with brain cancer. Looking back from a twenty-five year perspective on this anniversary of her death, November 2, 1986, I remember water-walking through those early days. I say water-walking because in my memory, whatever I did, I felt like I was underwater, worse than in a fog, worse than in some sort of altered state. I was heavy, too heavy to move, although I did.
In those six days, I don’t remember much of what I did. I know I spoke to people on the phone. I showered, I made arrangements, I probably ate. I dressed myself. I went to Alexa’s funeral. Those memories are covered with a film, almost as if I view them with eyes covered with Vaseline. Present, but not present, because the present was too much to bear.
Family members flew back to their homes, food brought by friends and neighbors was eaten, and one guest remained—my father-in-law.
I looked again at the avocados and announced to my husband, his father, and my surviving daughter, “These avocados are ripe. Someone should make guacamole with them.”
“Sounds good,” my husband said. “Why don’t you go ahead and make some?”
“What? Me make guacamole? I can’t make guacamole. I can’t do anything,” I thought to myself as I looked at the ripe fruits. And then I reconsidered. “Why not?” I asked myself. “I know how. I can do this.”
I got out the cutting board, the knife, the garlic, the onions, and the salt and pepper. I don’t remember all the steps I took that day, but I imagine they were similar to the steps I take whenever I make guacamole. The difference was my body was leaden. Lifting my arms and using my hands took more effort than seemed possible to do something simple like peel and mash avocados and chop some onions and garlic, and shake in some salt and pepper. My movements were alien, foreign.
I made guacamole, but I don’t remember eating guacamole. I don’t remember even tasting the guacamole. What I do remember is that making guacamole was the first real, tangible non-grief-related thing I did in the early days of mourning.
I’m a firm believer in mourning, in grief, and in taking one’s time to heal from devastating loss. I’m also a firm believer in taking steps back to the land of the living, life, and joyeven if that joy springs from something as basic as making food for the people you love. I will forever be grateful for the ripe avocados on my kitchen counter and the simple suggestion to make some guacamole.

Guacamole Recipe 

My guacamole recipe is so simple. Mash ripe avocados, mince onions and garlic and add them to the avocados. Add a few shakes of salt and pepper. My former husband thinks I have some sort of magic ingredient or method because my guacamole is the best most folks have ever eaten. None is ever left over, the bowl is just about licked clean. I have no explanation for the extraordinary flavor and appeal, except that I love avocados, I love guacamole, I love life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Soul42—Thank You Douglas Adams

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—begins today, as it has each year since 1999 on November 1. I tried to write a 50,000-word novel in one month several years ago, and didn’t make the count. This year, however, I have a plan. I have a plot. I have characters who have names.
I have a name: It’s the End of the World As We Know It. However, that will change. I love R.E.M., but they won’t love me after they realize I’ve snatched their song title. For the time being, I’ll use it only as a working title.
Yes, I know that serious authors don’t need NaNoWriMo to get in their 1,000+ words a day. I do, because I’m a serious author who wants to get more serious. Accountability is good, so I'm letting my family and friends know what I'm up to. I’m off to a bright start with 1,173 words the morning of day 1, and I will write more this evening. I’ll post an update a week into the challenge on November 8 and let you know how the world is progressing.

Want to try NaNoWriMo yourself? Head to the Web site and start writing: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/dashboard

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fiestaware Cup and Saucer Versus the Mug

My Mug Does Not Runneth Over
I love my Fiestaware cups, but are they practical
when I want to drink some serious eye-opening coffee? 
Dust covered the rim of the blue Fiestaware cup sitting on my kitchen shelf, making the color appear a pale gray. “Why don’t I use those cups, and even a saucer, for my morning coffee?” I asked myself. “My daily java routine could use a touch of elegance.” I washed a blue cup and saucer and placed them next to the coffee pot as a reminder to drink from them the next day when I sleepwalked into the kitchen.
I also formed a little riff in my brain about how often I gulp from a large mug and how the super-size culture has affected America. I resolved to liberate my mug and myself from what I perceived as yet another example of wretched excess.
Choices, choices...A cup or a mug?
Twelve minutes after I pushed the start button at 6 a.m. today, my coffee was ready. I poured the hot liquid into my coffee cup—not to be confused with a mug—and settled in for my first caffeine fix of the day. I sat at my writing desk, took a few swallows, wrote a few lines, reached for the cup to take another sip, and it was empty! I did the instant replay of walking back into the kitchen, filling the cup, adding sugar and milk, and returning to my writing desk in my room. I took a few swallows, wrote a few more lines, reached for the cup to take another sip—empty again?
I retraced my steps to the kitchen, put the cup and saucer in the sink, took a mug out of the cabinet, poured a generous amount of coffee into it, returned to my writing desk, and got down to the business of the day.
The mug wins!

I decided that wretched excess has nothing to do with drinking my coffee from a mug. I’m self-employed, so most mornings I don’t have to dash out the door. My fifteen-year-old routine of drinking a mug of coffee, writing, drinking some more coffee, and writing some more cannot easily be broken just because I come up with some absurd motion that my mornings would be more refined if I drank from a lovely cup and placed said cup on a saucer.
A mug it is from now on, unless I’m in a rather Victorian mood, in which case I’ll bring out the bone china, brew a pot of tea, bake some scones, and really put on some airs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lust for Stuff By Any Other Name…

Lust for Stuff By Any Other Name...
Isn’t Quite Lusty Enough

Stuff, spilling out of the attic and onto the floor 
Lust for Stuff is the name of a blog series I began several months ago. I covered only a few items: books, jewelry (especially gold), the appeal of free stuff and how I resisted it, and lust for stuff and the Joads from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
I had an entire series planned until the day I checked my blog stats. Stats tell bloggers about traffic to their blog, how many people read their posts (never quite enough to make me happy), browsers and operating systems being used, and a blogger’s audience by country. Stats can help you fine-tune your blog and even consider advertising. Stats also tell  you what sites refer readers to your blog, for example, Facebook, Facebook mobile, Google searches, and other Web sites.

I'm embarrassed that we filled this truck with stuff and took it to the dump.
During the few weeks I wrote about lust, I checked my stats.  Okay to be honest, I check my stats every day, several times a day. Like checking e-mail and checking Facebook, it’s a compulsion—as if I needed another one. Compulsions aside, perhaps not quite aside because during the time I wrote about lust for stuff, one of the hundred times I checked the stats, I saw an unfamiliar link.  Said link had referred a few readers to one of my “Lust for Stuff” stories. “I’ll just click this link and see what it is,” I said to myself, and click I did. “Whoa! Oh, my. Oh, no. Not that kind of lust.” I closed the window and resolved to never again go near that link.
Unfortunately, the link put me off so much that I avoided writing about lust for stuff. I wanted to come up with a different name for the series, one that wasn’t quite so . . . “lusty.” I wrote my intentions on my ubiquitous to-do list, but other intentions delayed my trip to the pages of my thesaurus until a few days ago. My Bartlett’s Roget’s Thesaurus at 1415 pages is the perfect companion to someone with a lust for synonyms. With over 350,000 terms and phrases, my appetite likely will not be satiated during this lifetime.
I steered away from that kind of lust in my quest for another name. “Desire” was the first, best match for the kind of lust I wanted to describe. But desire, craving, yearning, longing, hankering, and other nouns didn’t have the strength I wanted. I went to the verbs, and they, too, were similar, even the same words, sans suffixes: crave, long for yearn for, pine for, die for (to die for has become a mantra for some folks’ lust for stuff). I kept going: covet, envy, jealousy, possessiveness, rivalry, competition, bitterness, greed, hunger, appeal, attraction, discontent, malcontent, want.
Not one of the synonyms came close to what I want to say. Lust for stuff, especially in our consumer-driven society, is visceral. People get a gut-level feeling that surpasses desire, craving, yearning, longing. That visceral feeling of eagerness to purchase, to have, to own, goes far beyond envy or appeal. The urge, the strength of the feeling to acquire, to buy, to own is stronger than desire. It has become the fabric of our society, the fabric of our economy, and as most of us know, that fabric is fraying.
I cannot find another word works as well as lust to describe that drive to possess stuff, material possessions, ownership of clothes, books, houses, cars, trinkets, linens, toys, food, plants, watches, jewels—the list doesn’t end, because even for someone who “has it all,” someone is busy creating yet something else for that person to buy.
Lust for stuff it is. Do you have it? Do you want it? Do you need it? Crave it? Desire it? If yes, then you have “Lust for Stuff.”

How many plants are enough?

Thank You for the Dark Clouds

Gratitude—Three Sentences

It's a day to rest my eyes and be grateful
for cool breezes and muted skies.

I prefer sunshine and blue skies, but today all I see are clouds and rain is in the forecast. Can I be grateful for the chance to rest my eyes from the sun’s bright beams? Can I say thank you to the balmy breezes and the cooler air from the cloud-filled skies?

It's not a day for clothes to gently sway in the
breeze and dry in the sun.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grateful for Anger?

Gratitude—Two Sentences

Anger directed toward me generates anger of my own
and I often respond in kind.

Today, I will try expressing gratitude for the opportunity
to practice restraint and respond in peace.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My World and Worldly Goods

More in the "Lust for Stuff" Series...

What Would I Miss If I Lost “Everything”?

If my possessions were a blank slate, how would I fill it?
I met a Bernie Madoff victim yesterday. He didn’t lose everything, but he lost a lot. I can’t really relate, because I've never had to part with any kind of high-level materialism—no high-end sports car, no plane, no house on the ocean.
Regardless of the price tag on stuff, however, parting with it can be hard. I know because I haven’t been very successful ridding myself of it—I remain inundated with stuff. I have a house full of it in Florida and yet more in my MA house (although that amount was subject to a severe clearing last summer).
I have a picture of myself as being free and light should I ever purge most of my stuff. I wondered how the man who lost so much felt, so I asked him, “Do you miss the stuff?” His answer surprised me: “Yes.” When we got down to details, he admitted what he missed most was being able to cruise into the Apple store at any time and get a new gadget. I have no fondness for gadgets, electronic ones in particular, because for the most part, they make my brain hurt. It also was interesting that he didn’t miss other stuff so much as having the choice to indulge in it. I get that part, the wanting, but checking the bank balance and saying, “No, not this time.”
Of course, being the compare-and-contrast type of person I am, throughout the evening and into this morning, I have pondered my stuff, what I want, what I really care about, what I would miss if I “lost everything.” This relates to stuff, physical, material items, not personal relationships, which are so different as to not even be included in this discourse.
I thought of my possessions as a blank slate: Nothing there. Whenever the whiteboard in my kitchen is cleaned, that blank slate doesn’t last long. Someone fills it with a word, a note, a drawing, song lyrics, a quotation. If my material life became a blank slate, how would I fill it? What would I want right away?
I came up with a few things beyond the obvious such as a place to eat, sleep, and bathe and clothes to wear.

1.     Paper and pens. Life would be empty if I couldn’t write.

2.     Flour, yeast, sugar, and an oven to bake bread. Bread is so easy to make (for me), it’s nutritious, and filling. If I can make bread, I don’t think I would ever go hungry.

3.     Garden space, even if it’s ever-so-small. I nourish myself in a few ways, writing, baking bread, and growing things. Even if I had a large terra cotta pot and a straggling spider plant to nurture, I am certain I could endure.

4.     Books. Books are easy to acquire—I know because I have hundreds of them. Yard sales, libraries, thrift shops abound with them. I will always have books.

My list of necessities is short. As I look around me, I see so much in excess of those necessities and wonder how much of my life I spend tending for them, and what, just what, I would do, if I didn’t have them, even those that I obviously enjoy. Perhaps in the days and weeks to come as I navigate what I have, what I want, and what I need, I can come closer to the necessities in my daily life and further away from the stuff—even the stuff that I like.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gratitude: One Sentence

When I face challenges today,
I will be grateful for the opportunity to act with wisdom.