Lost My Mojo, Yo

I haven’t been writing. The act of typing those words made me feel a bit sick, but I guess self-reflection is important, even (or perhaps particularly) when it induces nausea.

Writers are supposed to write, ideally every day. I haven’t done that for weeks. My discipline has been derailed. It’s not for a lack of projects or ideas. I’m awash in those, yet I haven’t opened an in-progress manuscript since…okay, I just checked. June 3rd. πŸ™„ Ugh.

When I ask myself why this is happening, plenty of excuses stand at the ready. The world is a mess, so I can’t focus. My job involves too much computer time, so when I’m off the clock, I don’t want to stare at a screen. Doubts about why I write at all tug at my gut, poking my insecurities. What’s the point? It’s a waste of time. Find something useful to do.

Of course, it’s pretty shitty to be stuck in this place. I’m disappointed in myself. I fear that I’ve fallen too far off course to self-correct. I consider my unfinished work, cringing at the thought that it will remain that way.

Sometimes, when I’m in a rut like this, I engage in a mental exercise I call Be Your Own Client. If I were counseling myself right now, I imagine I’d say: “Accept the slump. It’s okay. It’s not permanent. If the inspiration to write isn’t there, do other things to support your writer self. Read. Go outside, explore, make discoveries. Spend time with loved ones. At some point, you’ll write again. It’s inevitable. The need to write is at your core. That hasn’t changed, and it won’t. So give yourself a break.”

Okay, that actually helped. I suppose a longtime counseling career has its benefits.

Happy WTF Day

In my most humble opinion (you can always count on the humblest of opinions from Leos), I have a remarkably cool birthday: August 8th. NOFX even wrote a song about it ~

Birds sing
There's not a cloud in the sky
Yeah, August 8th is a beautiful day
I see a bunch of hippies crying
Yeah, August 8th is a beautiful day

Yes, it’s true – August 8th is a beautiful day. And as I recently discovered, it is also Happiness Happens Day.

Seriously. This is a thing.

Our nation boasts a huge number of bizarre commemorative days. Today, for example, is National Weed Your Garden Day, Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, and Sewing Machine Day (this is a random assortment – there are others), and tomorrow is Pop Goes the Weasel Day, Strawberry Shortcake Day, and Bourbon Day. Why do we have these days? Who the hell knows. We just do.

So live it up, folks. Smash a dish on the kitchen floor, then sew together a pair of gardening gloves and pull some weeds. Tomorrow, whistle Pop Goes the Weasel while you pour bourbon over strawberry shortcake. But take care not to drink so much that you go from happy-drunk to sad-drunk. You wouldn’t want to spoil National Smile Power Day on the 15th!

Weirdly enough, I just happened upon my horoscope for the week, and it’s this:

[Courtesy of Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology]

Therefore, I believe myself justified in assigning June 13th yet another designation: National Meaningless Coincidence Day.

Slapstick IRL

While I don’t love onscreen slapstick, I appreciate when it happens in real life (especially when it happens to me, so I don’t have to subject others to the indelicacy of laughing before I remember to ask if they’re okay). My most recent slapstick moment took place a few weeks ago when a dog I was walking decided to stop and sit down right in front of me for no discernible reason, thus creating the following string of events:

  1. Kelly trips over dog
  2. Whilst tripping, Kelly drops bag of dog poop
  3. Kelly steps on bag of poop
  4. Hilarity ensues

Sadly, no one was around to witness this priceless occurrence. Maybe there’s drone footage somewhere. I truly hope so.

My Lifetime Achievement Award slapstick moment happened many years ago when I was running late to an important meeting. I screeched into a parking space, jumped out of the car, and attempted to dash off while slamming the car door behind me. Unfortunately, my hair flew back and got caught in the door as it slammed shut, thereby causing my whole body to shoot backwards, headfirst. As an added bonus, I’d locked the door from the inside during my hasty exit, so I had to stand at an absurd angle, head stuck to the car, to rummage through my bag for the keys. It probably took five seconds to find them, but it felt like an hour.

As in the dog poop incident, no one was around. I was grateful for this at the time, but when the sting of humiliation wore off, I was bummed no one had seen it. What a missed opportunity. Witnesses could have recalled that memory and laughed about it for the rest of their lives.

Slapstick isn’t all fun and games, however. Sometimes it leads to major life changes. Case in point: due to the aforementioned incident, I’ve chosen this hairdo since 2006 ~

Safety first, people!

Welcome to My Unconscious

Alarm goes off this morning. I press snooze.

The next thing I know, I’m standing in the large, industrial kitchen of a luxurious domicile where I’m housesitting. For some reason, the kitchen is full of visitors. The people are unfamiliar, but I know they’re connected to the homeowners somehow. On the counter is an answering machine (apparently I’ve traveled back in time), and I press the play button, then listen to a message from a young man who’s looking after my place while I’m away. His tone is morose as he explains that Jasper, my dog, has died. The folks in the kitchen give me sad, compassionate looks while the message plays. I assume they heard him leave it, so they already know the news.

I don’t have time to linger over Jasper’s passing, however, because I have to get to a show. An acquaintance of mine has embarked on a comedy career and asked me to attend her opening performance. I walk through a door (conveniently located right off the kitchen) to enter an auditorium full of people. The lights have been dimmed, and I work my way through the dark to find a seat. It turns out we’re not there for stand-up comedy. Instead, we watch a sitcom’s pilot episode, and the budding comic I’m there to see plays one of the characters. Sadly, as the show runs, the laugh track provides the only laughter in the room. I wonder what I’m going to tell the woman afterwards, though I imagine the crowd’s silence is feedback enough.

Then I’m in another house that I know is mine, though it’s nothing like anywhere I’ve ever lived. There are no signs of Jasper – no food bowl, leash, etc. I walk around the house, trying to piece together what might have happened to him, when my alarm goes off again.

In the real world, ten minutes have passed. I wake with a deep feeling of melancholy, but it dissolves as I hear Jasper’s claws tick across the floor in the other room. My sweet dog is alive, I have no housesitting responsibilities, and I don’t have to tell whoever that woman was that her show was awful.

Whew.

Emergence

To me, spring is a huge relief. As I emerge from the oppressive darkness, freezing temperatures, and skeletal landscapes of the winter doldrums, I am reminded once again that happiness is possible.

Months ago, I attended a daylong conference on authentic happiness. About halfway through, the presenter asked the audience if we believed optimists or pessimists possess a more realistic world view. Most of us voted for the pessimists, and we were right. (I’ve certainly remarked on occasion that I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist. Turns out my cynical assessment was correct.)

But she then told us this: while pessimists’ predictions tend to be more accurate, optimists rate themselves as happier people, have far fewer health problems, and live longer than pessimists. The logical conclusion, she said, is simple. Choose optimism. Being right is overrated.

On the day I attended this presentation, winter reigned. When I walked to my car at 5 p.m., night had already fallen, and sleet prickled my face. As I rubbed mittened hands together, trying to raise some warmth in my frozen fingers, I thought of the presenter’s advice about optimism and could only muster a sardonic laugh.

But today, the air is full of bird calls and the scent of blossoms. Redbuds, dogwoods, and tulips are in full bloom, and my vision is awash in pinks, purples, and lush, new greens. As I learned during four pitiful years in Oregon, my emotional state is a slave to the weather. That’s just the way it is, and I accept it about myself (another key to happiness, as it turns out). So today, I choose optimism. I choose to believe that events are unfolding as they should. I choose to believe there is a glow of hope on the horizon. I choose to believe humans are capable of powerful goodness.

Screw pessimism. Reality be damned. I choose happiness.

THINK vs. SO: A Crucial Choice

Self-published authorship is a hard row to hoe. Even if you wrap yourself in glittery lights, wave your arms, and yell, “Look at me! Over here!” 99.99% of the world will reply, “Why? I’ve never even heard of you. Leave me alone, loser. I’m watching The Real Housewives.” But you must soldier on and keep hope alive, believing that one day, someone not connected by blood or friendship will give a crap about your work.

Several months back, I posted Aret’s book trailer on my Facebook page. A few minutes later, I got a notice from Facebook offering a $10 voucher for a sponsored post. I figured, what the hell? I’d never found their ads effective, but for ten free dollars? Sure. So I turned the trailer post into an ad, chose an audience of fantasy-focused book lovers, and cast it into the interwebs.

I check Facebook once a day (a sanity-preservation deal I made with myself a couple years ago), so it wasn’t until the next morning that I logged in and discovered that, unsurprisingly, the trailer had gotten minimal attention. It had, however, received a comment from someone I didn’t know! Hurrah, such a boon for the self-published writer! I experienced about 2 seconds of happiness before clicking over to the comment to find this:

“A movie trailer for a book? I’m too old for this shit.” – Joe the Shmoe from Idaho* [*not his real name or state of origin, but the rebrand comforts me]

That was it – the only comment. Joe the Shmoe had taken it upon himself to stand alone, boldly sharing his brilliant observations with the world.

When you delete a comment (which I did immediately, in this case), Facebook asks if you’re sure you want to delete it. I wish there were also an option to generate a private message to the commenter, timed to arrive the moment the comment is obliterated. If there were such an option, I’d send this picture of myself:

WTF, Joe?

But this irritating incident wasn’t really about Aret’s book trailer or my futile attempts at marketing. It was about communication choices. As I read and deleted Joe’s comment, I recalled a helpful and easy-to-remember model, posted in pretty much every school counselor’s office across our nation:

I love the THINK model, hokey as it may seem. Can you imagine if people used this framework when choosing whether or not to communicate? Incidents of getting butt-hurt for no good reason would be driven to near-extinction, and internet commentary would decrease by about 98%. In short, the world would be a much better place.

Unfortunately, the framework people seem to choose instead is something I’ve come to call the SO model:

S = Is it Stupid?
O = Is it Obnoxious?

If SO...you should definitely say it!

Joe the Shmoe, and millions of other trolls just like him, are big supporters of the SO model. Some dumb idea flits through their heads, and they promptly carve it into the universe. From a professional standpoint, I suppose I should be happy about this, as people’s prevalent use of the SO model provides an ongoing stream of clients for mental health workers like me. But I am not happy about it. I would much rather have people think for two seconds before spewing their nonsense into the world. I believe our species is approaching max capacity for nonsense, and you know what happens when we hit that threshold, right?

The robots take over. πŸ€– ☠️

So please, folks – choose THINK over SO. I can find another line of work, and I’d like to have the option to choose it myself, rather than being forced into servitude by android overlords.

Solid Point, Mr. Bierce

The past couple of weeks have been all about patience and how much it sucks. The 2nd edition of Aret: Book One has been written, reviewed by a team of editors, updated, read through twice more, just to be safe (God help me), and uploaded to Amazon. Since then, the old and new versions have battled for dominance, the old version refusing to give up the ghost and no one, including Amazon, understanding why.

What that means for me is that I can’t do a formal launch of the 2nd edition, even though it is so totally ready, because I don’t want any new readers to end up with the old version of the book. Therefore, I sit in the doldrums, waiting to receive a message from Amazon that says something better than: “We are still investigating this matter. Thank you for your patience.”

Ah, patience, the virtue touted as “its own reward.” But we all know what that means, right? Choosing to be patient is slightly less awful than opting for impatience. That’s all. Ambrose Bierce offers a more accurate assessment. In The Devil’s Dictionary, he defines patience as “a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” Precisely, Ambrose. Very perceptive.

But none of that matters. The fact is that I can’t move forward, so there’s nothing to do but wait for the all-clear from Amazon and pretend I possess the patience for which they keep thanking me. In the interim, I will go to my happy place.

Here it is!

With my consciousness nestled in paradise, I will try to avoid thoughts of Aret, books in general, patience, or impatience. When Axl Rose starts to sing in my head about the-virtue-that-shall-not-be-named (🎢 “Said, woman, take it slow and it’ll work itself out fine…” 🎢), I will tell him to pipe down, reminding him that he’s sung that song to me five hundred times in the past two weeks, and it’s time to give it a rest.

Someday, this lapse in the doldrums will be naught but a distant, annoying memory. That will be a good day. For now, I’m off to the tropical tree swing in my mind. 🌴

Just Like That

During a recent conversation with a 10-year-old, he let me know he’d spent the weekend at his cousin’s. When I asked if the two got along, the boy replied, “Well, no. He’s a butthole.”

That turn of phrase is the perfect descriptor for my current feelings about mortality. Mortality, you are a total butthole. In January, you took my Gaga. In May, you took my Libby. And in November, you (literally) messed with my mother’s head.

Two days before Thanksgiving, while mortality busily maneuvered a blood clot towards my mom’s brain, I asked my husband to take this photo:

DSC_0003

We were vacationing on the Georgia coast, and I knew Mom would love the image, as she always says I’m not really on vacation until she sees a picture of me in a tree. Before I had the chance to show it to her, however, I got a call from my sister.

“Hello, Sister!” I answered cheerily. “How are you?”

“Um, I’m okay,” she said, but her tone was strained. I held my breath in anticipation of what would come next. “I need to tell you that Mom had a stroke.”

While awaiting post-surgery news with phone in hand, tears streaming down my face, I scrolled through saved texts, emails, voicemails, and photos from Mom. Just like that, the emotions associated with her contacts had shifted entirely. The same images that would have brought a smile to my face before my sister’s call now filled me with bitterness and heartache.

Twenty minutes later, I received word from Dad that Mom was out of surgery, wiggling her toes, talking, and laughing. The next day, I sent her this photo of my husband, taken that morning:

She sent back a series of happy faces and hearts.

Due to an amazing set of circumstances that some would call blessings and others would call luck, only two hours passed between my sister’s 911 call and the blood clot’s evacuation. Four days later, sitting with both of my parents in their car on our way to their home in Florida, I snapped this photo to share with Mom’s many admirers:

All crises leave lessons in their wake. From this one, I’ve been reminded that Mortality the Butthole does not mess around. It tears loved ones away without warning or apology. Even if no words are left unsaid, hugs withheld, or moments unsavored, the loss will hurt like hell. I suppose all we can do is recognize and cherish the precious, finite time we have with each other and let that be enough. Attachment inevitably leads to suffering, and I choose to attach. Grief is just part of the deal.

And my final, lingering lesson from the recent crisis is this: referring to mortality as a butthole kind of helps. I recommend it.

Six Years of Separation

At this time six years ago, Libby the Dog, Sid the Cat, and I were halfway through our three-month stint on Orcas Island, and I was 100 pages into Aret. By the time we left Orcas, I’d written a raw first draft, though it was more of a blurry blueprint than a book. Four years later, I published a better version. The other night, I completed a MUCH better version. Now, it’s in the hands of a group of editors, and I get to step away from revision-mode, which is a huge relief.

My youngest nephew is three. When he attempts a task without immediate success, he pitifully cries, “I can’t!” But because he’s a resilient little guy, he keeps trying, and when he succeeds (usually within about five seconds), he joyfully exclaims, “I did it!” That 180-degree emotional shift is something I experienced about ten thousand times during Aret’s grueling rewrite. I’d hit a phrase, sentence, or paragraph that stopped me dead, decide I was the worst writer in history and a complete idiot to think I could write a whole goddamn book, and seriously consider smashing my computer. Then I’d keep trying, fix the problem, and think, I did it! I do know how to write! Yay!

When I finished Aret’s first draft, if someone had mentioned how long it would take to complete the final edit, I might’ve thrown the manuscript in the trash. Six years is quite a stretch of time, and a lot has changed since 2012. Loved ones have been gained and lost. Much of my hair has turned white. My husband and I have begun the debate I remember my parents having throughout my childhood: You’re Going Deaf vs. You’ve Started Mumbling. A wrist brace has been added to my already super-sexy nighttime routine (mouthguard + earplugs + wrist brace = HOT). And I’ve gone from watching bald eagles outside my cottage on Orcas to having a Harris’ hawk perch on my hand.

IMG_0687

Several weeks back, when I mentioned to my sister that I was editing Aret, she replied with this text: What. Are. You. Talking. About. Why oh why would you do that to yourself???  She had a good point. But now that the travail is over, I feel like my nephew with his beatific smile, glorying in an accomplishment that once seemed impossible. I suppose that’s another thing that’s changed since 2012: I have a new role model who’s three years old.

 

[P.S. ~ If your takeaway from this post was: Hey, I want a hawk on my hand, too!  and you happen to be in Western North Carolina, you can experience an afternoon of falconry here: http://curtiswrightoutfitters.com/falconry/. It is truly amazing.]

The Water that Surrounds

This is my mom:

20151210_100336

She turns 70 today. This picture was taken back in the ’70s, and while many beautiful images have been captured of her over the years, this is one of my favorites, because it perfectly encapsulates her gentle, loving spirit. (Plus, she’s holding a kitten AND a puppy, so the cuteness level is unreal.)

As I’ve grown older, I’ve heard my peers speak with exasperation about how much they now look and sound like their mothers. But for me, those are my best moments. When I speak and hear my mother’s words, I know I’m on the right track. When I choose to face adversity with a calm, quiet dignity, I am channeling my mom. When I am at my most patient, thoughtful, and gracious, I look in the mirror and see her reflected.

DSC_0101Mom’s lesson on how to pose for pictures

If someone is woven into the very fabric of your being, how do you describe what she means to you? It’s like asking a fish to describe the water that surrounds it. My mom is in my voice, gestures, and actions. She’s there when I kick off my shoes the moment I enter the house, not due to a “no shoes in the house” rule, but to a general “no shoes in life” rule. She’s there whenever I catch myself standing in tree pose – her natural stance most of the time. She’s there when I make a little quip or silly face that causes kids to burst out laughing. She’s there when I’m able to soothe an anxious animal. She’s there when I send someone a cute card or little note just to lift their spirits.

(I’ve gotten dozens of these kinds of cards ⬆️ over the years, out of the blue. A sticky note with her signature smiley face is taped to my keyboard right now. By the time my wrist has rubbed the image away, I’m sure she’ll have sent another.)

But Mom isn’t only an incredibly creative and thoughtful card-sender and gift-giver (e.g., for our tiny beach wedding, she gave my husband and me flip-flops that left “Just Married” prints in the sand, and for my birthday this year, which is on 8/8, she sent an Anna’s 88 butterfly, which has 88 patterns on its wings). On a grander scale, she does an amazing job of accepting her kids and grandkids as we are, without guilt or pressure. She embraces our dreams, friends, interests, and choices without judgment. And the attachments that bloom from that kind of love are fierce and immeasurable.

20171124_150854This is what “I love my Grammy” looks like.

Mom’s role modeling is powerful, but delivered with a subtlety that makes her influence almost undetectable. I experienced this in the Grand Canyon, as we trekked up a steep trail to see Anasazi granaries on a brutally hot day. About halfway up, Mom sat on a rock and said, “I can’t do it.” I started to think, This doesn’t make sense; Mom would not say that, but my thoughts were cut short as she finished her sentence: “…without a break.” It occurred to me then that I couldn’t remember Mom ever specifically telling me never to give up, but her actions throughout my life had clearly sent that message. (Also, she made it to the top.)

Beyond all of that, my mom is hilarious. I once emailed her a close-up photo I’d taken of a caterpillar eating a leaf and mentioned that right after I’d snapped it, a gust of wind had whipped the leaf away. When I posted the picture online, she commented: “I just keep thinking of the puzzled look on the caterpillar’s little fuzzy face when the leaf blew away.” Years later, a friend posted a photo of me on a hike, and I had this weird, angry look on my face. I commented: “Kelly glares at nature.” Mom replied, “And nature cowers!”

Currently, my parents are in Tanzania, celebrating their anniversary and Mom’s birthday with elephants, wildebeest, baboons, and zebras. Whenever they go on a trip, Mom sends her poor daughters horrible documents detailing what we’re supposed to do if they…ahem…”don’t come back.” We respond with the level of maturity one would expect from two women in their 40s: “I CAN’T SEE THIS MESSAGE LA LA LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!” The last time we replied to one of her “death emails” in this manner, Mom wrote back: “Ah, we’re in good hands!”

But the truth is I can’t think about a world that doesn’t include my parents. Such a thing would be, as the Sicilian oft repeated in The Princess Bride, inconceivable.

DSC_0078

So the plan for now is to remain like this:

πŸ™ˆΒ πŸ™‰Β πŸ™Š

…and to treasure every moment, honor every milestone, and save every smiley face.

Happy birthday, Mom. You are so loved.