Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: Essays

A Love Letter: A Long List of Wins

I don’t have a book quote to riff off of, or a podcast to share. I don’t have some special insight, or some polished bit of advice, not even an anecdote. But I still wanted to write to you today, so I’ve decided to write a love letter to my friends. Let’s see what happens.

Man child doing tech things that I can't possibly understand.
Man Child

Big news: my youngest son found work this week and is now looking for a place of his own, probably just a room at this point. He’ll be leaving our desert again. This time heading for the coast, where all the action is. At this time, he wants to continue his college classes and then transfer to a UC school next year, so he found some restaurant work because of its flexible schedule. He’s a smart one. I’m just happy that he won’t be in another state like the rest of our family. No offense to you guys, I know you’re all doing what’s best for you and that’s awesome, but, yes, if I had my druthers, we’d all live in the same area and party every weekend.

I spent an amazing afternoon with one of my closest friends this week. We went to the Macaroni Grill and ate something so glorious that I can’t keep my mind off it, butternut asiago tortellaci. So good, that I went home and looked up a copycat recipe to see if I can’t recreate this piece of heaven at home. You know how good it was? I usually eat as if someone will take the food away, but this I savored one tiny bite at a time while my friend and I solved all the world’s problems. I told the waiter all about it. And he was another win of this week.

That guy! There were only a couple other people in the restaurant, so he had time to stop and chat. My friend asks great questions, and he seemed happy to stand there and talk to us. I left that restaurant with a renewed faith in the people of this world. Here was another young guy, not unlike my own sons, that had moved all the way across the country to start a cool new life of his own, struggling a bit, like everyone else, but making it and happy. I would have liked to talk more. Why did he come here? And where was he going? We may need to eat there again next week. I think I’m in love.

Here is the biggest win of all: for the first time in my life, I noticed an emotional reaction and consciously chose how I would respond to it. Thank the maker! I’m catching on. Yes, I’m 48 years old and FINALLY starting to have some self-control. I was having a conversation with a friend and something he said just triggered something nasty in me. We don’t need to get into specifics because that’s not the point here. The point is that I actually had (and noticed) a moment where I felt thrown into an emotion.

Have you ever felt that? Something you see or hear just moves your whole soul to a sore point in your life and you feel like it’s brand new? Like…let me see…you burned yourself severely years ago, it’s been healed, a scar is barely visible, but then you see something that puts you right there at the moment and you feel the burn all over again. It really sucks. I’m sure I’ve been in the place before, but in the past, I reacted before I realized what was happening and created a new wound. Same analogy, I felt the burn memory like it was real, scraped at my body to get the heat off and went running for safety.

This time was different. I slowed down for a fraction of a second, took a deep breath and thought, “This is an emotion. Emotions are temporary.” In the next few minutes I thought, “Where did that emotion come from?” Then I sat with it awhile, wrote out the feelings, and moved forward. I didn’t need to be angry. I did mention what I was feeling and why, but I didn’t blame anyone or (my typical MO) snarl and bite like a dog protecting a wound. A few hours later, it was gone, and the journal entry of my process remained. I had done it. Success!

Now, I am well aware that next time might not go so nicely. I’m not a Zen master. But I now know it is possible to do this. And I’ve got one practice under my belt. I’m a happy girl.

Books are a love letter from the past.
The NEW one of the seven bookcases and ME!

There were other things that happened this week, as you can imagine. For a woman that doesn’t have a job and lives away from people, I sure do have a lot of activities. Well, maybe some people wouldn’t call it activity. I’ve been enjoying the company of my son while he is here, had several great text conversations with some friends, helped someone with a homeschooling question, and read and wrote a lot. Oh, and reorganized by books because I got a new bookshelf. I feel peaceful and, what’s the word, together.

And, as if this week weren’t amazing enough, I made another cheesecake from scratch, and it did not crack! First time EVER! This one is extra special because I wanted it to have a chocolate cookie crust and they didn’t have that at the store…so I googled it and made my own like a freakin’ boss!

Can cheesecake be a love letter to your friends? Yes.
Gloriousness in Springform

A special, heart-felt, THANK YOU, to all my readers, the ones I know about and the hidden ones, the likers and the lurkers, the ones that read now and the ones that may read in the future. Thank you for reading my love letter, for allowing me to pour my heart out every day. Thank you for letting me in. Your interest in my humanity is felt every time you visit, and it feeds my soul. If I could, I’d buy you all a round of drinks.

What did you win at this week? I’d love to get a love letter from you!

Self-Inflicted Stress Ramble

Prepare yourself for a self-inflicted stress ramble of a mildly epic proportion. Can you have something be “mildly epic?” Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Self-Inflicted Stress Visual Representation
A Drawing of My Mind

Stressing out. Too many things to do. Too many plans. Not enough time. Down time needs to be included. I can’t simply keep running from one thing to the next. Books to read, posts to write, housework to do. Grocery store, visit friends, hiking, shopping, hanging out. Cooking, talking, texts, articles to read. Yard work and laundry. TV shows. Sleep.

I have notes from my last three drives that I’d love to talk about. I’m thinking about a shift in my blog subjects. Reading a lot less. That is stress too, but I read to connect and hear other people’s stories when I’m alone. Jake is home. I want to focus there, while the real person is here. I know my time is short.

Mental health. Fun and interesting new discoveries I’ve made through a podcast and some Instagram posts, which I know are not real therapy. I need time to sit and process.

Looking at my week. Is posting daily an impossible task? I’m not sure where I’m going, what I’m going to do next. Do I need a plan? Or should I just go back to more journal like thoughts? SEO has hijacked my thinking and blocking my process.

More books on my TBR shelf. Ones I need to read, ones I think will help.

Phone calls, dishes, repairs to make. Craft projects and room rearranging. Road trips planned. Time away from home.

Time. There isn’t enough.

I’m looking for a meditation workbook/journal, one that will help me focus on self-love, a little help in the self-acceptance, letting go of expectations, and kind of thing to work on as a new piece of my morning routine. Any ideas?

I know it’s self-inflicted stress. I have no external authority or task masters. Something has to give and I have to choose it.

I’ll be back here. I promise. See you Monday.

What if we allow negativity its place like we allow the night?

A conversation with my brother made me think, “Is negativity and violence the only real honesty?”

Negativity is just another emotion. Lego heads prove it!
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

No one who is feeling happy and positive ever decides to play miserable and negative. I don’t think, “You know I’m having a great day, but I don’t want to bother people with it, so I’ll share a few negative vibes out into the world.” But we do the opposite all the time.

No one who is loving and kind decides to act out in violence and suddenly smack the person they love most just to make sure they’re paying attention. But we often feel angry and violent toward some people and decide not to act on that feeling, lay low, and fake kindness for awhile so they don’t know how pissed we are.

When you hear or see someone’s negative feelings, they are always honest. When you hear someone’s positivity and light, they could very well be hiding some nasty thoughts with pretty colors.

Why is that? What’s going on there?

This thought led me to remember a post I saw on Instagram awhile back about how unhealthy it is to ignore dark thoughts and feelings, the “highlight reel” of social media. There’s also a trend in the online world to bombard the ugly, dark parts of the internet with love and light. I’ve felt the pull to share only the positives myself. Why add to the shitty mood and post my ugly thoughts right now? I’ll just keep that part to myself.

But you know what? Fuck it. Not sharing the negativity you feel is just lying in the form of omission. My negatives are a part of who I am. They are not bad, they’re just feelings and they’ll pass, just like the positive feelings will.

I was having lunch with a friend and he mentioned something I had shared, a post or a picture, I can’t remember, but the gist was “Don’t share that. It doesn’t make you look good.” I changed the subject, but on the way home I started to think about it again.

I don’t think I post anything to make me look good or bad. I share who I am, what makes me happy, sad, irritated, and enlightened. I want to post my pretty new shirt and my ugly dirty feet. Yes, I’m having a shot of whisky on ice because people suck and I’m mad at the world! AND I know those people don’t mean to suck and tomorrow will be a brighter day.

What you see here on my blog, on my Facebook profile, or my Instagram feed, is me. And that me is the same me you would find over a beer or a cup of coffee, on a hiking trail, or in a bookstore. To some extent anyway. Everyone tries to filter themselves so they don’t offend, but we shouldn’t be doing it so much that we are a totally different person face to face. We all have bad moods and moments of angst. We shouldn’t be afraid to show our negativity to the world. At least, “that’s…like…my opinion, man.”

I’m thinking of those selfie filters that make you look like 20-year-old sex goddess, but really your hair is graying, wrinkles are showing around your eyes, and you’ve gained twenty pounds this year. It’s a lie and nothing is uglier than a lie.

More and more the past few years, I have found myself filtering my image. That picture makes me look old. That post makes me look angry. That quote might be taken the wrong way. Why? Fear, I guess. I want to be liked by as many people as possible. And I don’t take criticism well at all. It’s something I’m really trying to work on.

This morning, after I found an awesome article on Tiny Buddha about It’s Not All Love and Light, which you should go read after you read the rest of this, I found another article there that spoke to my soul. It was about not taking things personally. I think I’ll print both these articles and read them over and over again.

Man, if I could have a superpower, it would be the ability to read something once and incorporate it into practice at will. That same piece of me that allows me to stop hating your guts ten minutes after losing my mind completely, also allows useful information about behaving better slip through my fingers as soon as the page is turned, or the book is closed. It’s frustrating. You’d think I’d better at living in the moment, but no.

In closing…man, that sounds corny…

If we go around pretending the sun shines nice and warm 24/7, when it starts to set, we’ll freak out. Instead of enjoying the last rays of sunlight before turning in to spend the dark hours resting and getting ready for the next day, we’ll wear ourselves out in panic, the night terrors will consume us and the next day won’t seem bright at all.

All of life comes in cycles, negativity is just one of part of that cycle. We need to embrace them, use them to our advantage, not push them away and hide them under the rug. I have always been terrible at maintaining this so-called “balance,” but I’m starting to learn. Better late than never, right?

Side note: While searching for the perfect picture for this article, the keyword “negativity” had four photos and the keyword “positivity” had hundreds. That’s exactly the lack of balance that I’m talking about.

Making Time for the Little Things You Want to Accomplish

You know that thing that you wish you could make time in your day for? What if you did? What would it be? What if making time for it was a decision you could consciously make?

Making time to read every morning.
My Morning (photo by author)

Learn to meditate, read that book, start a journal, finish that craft. There are loads of things we tell ourselves that we would love to do them if we only had the time. But really…how much time we need to start?

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? If you’re like me, you stumble into the kitchen for coffee and hope there is some still left! I used to plop myself down on the couch and turn on the tv to vegetate awhile. It was a habit I created when I was younger. I was tired and grumpy and needed an hour or so to sip my coffee, watch the news mindlessly, and give myself some time to wake up. I needed that time and felt violated if anyone interrupted my morning routine.

And then I had kids and my morning routine was shot to hell. I couldn’t get up before the kids, they usually woke me up at the crack of dawn. The morning routine became about them, taking care of their needs. It was fun most days.

As they got older and we considered homeschooling, I began to be aware that I needed time for myself, time to read, reflect, and relax a bit. I ended up creating an evening routine for that, reading to my kids before bed, and then sitting in their room reading and journaling while they went to sleep. It wasn’t always relaxing but it worked well most nights.

Once they were “school age” and began sleeping past the earliest rays of sunlight, I started being able to get up before the chaos and when I did, I returned right back to my old way of coffee and tv news, with the added time-suck of social media. Habits do not die easily! My morning hour turned into two, while I listened to the news and scrolled through Facebook chatting with friends.

I’m not sure how it came to my attention or why I suddenly thought of it, but I do remember I was growing frustrated with how little time I had to read. My evening routine was great, but I was tired and could only read for about half an hour before I became sleepy and went to bed. The boys didn’t need me to sit there until they went to sleep anymore. I needed to find more time in my day, when I was more alert, if I were going to get any serious reading done.

That’s when it dawned on me…first thing in the morning. I’m conscious enough to scroll through my social media feeds and read articles while I drink my coffee. Why not use that time to read my book? So that’s what I did. I promised myself that I’d get my coffee, sit on the couch, and read for fifteen minutes before I did anything else.

Fifteen minutes after a week or so, turned into thirty and that year I finished 15 books. Over the years, I’ve increased my reading time little by little. In the past I was never able to focus on books for more than a few minutes at a time, but it turns out that it just takes practice to increase that focus. I still only read for an hour at a time, an hour and a half if the book is fun and exciting, thirty minutes if it’s complicated. Then I need to get up and move around, change positions, or change books every hour or so, but I’m up to three hours of reading a day now. And most of that is early in the morning, before I do anything else. I have a new habit. I reach for my book and my coffee now, automatically. This past year I read 64 books.

So, what if you could do that thing you wanted to make more time for? What if you had it ready and waiting for you in the morning, like the coffee maker prefilled and put on a timer? All you’d have to do was pour your cup, pick up your thing, and head to the couch to start. Write your first thoughts before any new input. Listen to that podcast or audiobook while you craft. Read that book for fifteen minutes. Meditate on the steam from your coffee. Whatever it is, make time for it first thing in the day and the rest of the day will already be won because you already did something awesome.

High School Did Not Help Me Make Decisions as an Adult

Confession: Ever since high school I have been hoping that someone would tell me what to do next.

Graduating high school, relieved.
Spring 1991

I was a good student in high school. I got decent grades in most classes. I kept on top of my work. For the most part, I did so by simply showing up and writing things down. It wasn’t that I was an exceptional scholar or was particularly interested in the subjects. I had simply discovered that if showed up every day, on time, wrote down when things were due, and made an attempt to finish the assignment, I passed my classes.

At one point in a history class, I realized that I didn’t have to read the whole chapter or really understand what was happening to pass the tests. I only had to have a general idea of the dates we were talking about and scan the chapter titles and headlines because that’s what would be on the test. As soon as the test was over, I forgot all about the material. Science was about the same.

English was the same class I’d been taking since the sixth grade. Once we learned to read, which I don’t remember, I feel like I always knew how to read, we just went over more and more grammar rules and sometimes read a book and did a book report. All through high school I waited for the change to literature and creative writing, but it never came. Well into my senior year, I was amazed that we were still talking about nouns, verbs, and paragraphs.

Spanish was rough. I was required to take two years of a foreign language to graduate, and Spanish seemed logical. Growing up in Southern California, most people speak some Spanish. I hear it all day, every day. You’d think it would have been easier for me to pick it up, but I never did. I understand some and have a few words and phrases, but never did well in the classes at all. Honestly, I think it was because serious study doesn’t come naturally to me. I never learned how because I rarely needed to.

All my “electives” were theater related and those were simple. Memorizing scripts and blocking, designing, and building sets, were fun for me and I spent all my waking hours in the theater until my senior year when I started working at Disneyland at night.

Four years of high schooled marched by. Every year I had limited choices as to what I could take and when. I had to be there five days a week and I had to take 6 classes a semester. Most of those were required classes, some were chosen electives. All of them were strictly guided and had little self-direction, critical thinking, or logic. I showed up. I turned in my assigned work. I did my time. And graduation loomed ahead. The final threshold into the “real world.”

The REAL world, people! From my work at the mall and then at Disneyland, being around college kids and working adults all through the summer before and during my senior year of high school, I was starting to get the feeling that the REAL world was nothing like my school world and that the skills I was using here were not going to translate out there.

After high school at university.
Fall 1991

I had no real urge to go to college but ended up enrolling anyway because everyone else was. School counselors didn’t give you any options other than which college to go to. The school I chose wasn’t a local community college, it was a private university in the next county, far enough away from home to have to find a place to live away from my parents. It never occurred to me, and no one in financial aid brought it up, how I was going to pay for my education or whether I should.

How did I find this school? My high school theater class took a tour there when the university had a theater competition for high school students. I entered a set design I had done and won first place. I had been acting in competitions like this for the last four years and had never gotten past the first round. This was the first time set design and playwriting were offered as divisions. Stage design and painting had been my real love of the theater the whole time but there were no strictly stagecraft classes. You had to take acting or general theater, which meant some acting, to be able to work on the lights, sound, and sets, so I did. I was ecstatic when I found out I could enter as a designer. And then I won! First place…of three entries, but still. I got a thousand dollar “scholarship” too if I went to that university.

I fell in love with that school the moment we drove up in the school bus. It looked like a small version of an ivy league type school right out of the movies to me. And it wasn’t that far from home. I was never a very adventurous kid. Even though I hadn’t really considered going to college before, the moment I saw it and then went around their tiny theater department, I started having visions of me attending and becoming a famous designer on Broadway. When I won the award, I was sure this was the path for me.

I spent the next few months catching up. It was already early spring and everyone else had been working on college prep since the tenth grade. I hadn’t even taken the SAT’s. I remember signing up and taking the test, doing ok, but I can’t remember what my scores were. I applied at the school and was accepted and sent to financial aid to work out the details. I had to have my mom apply for a parent loan, which I was sure she couldn’t afford. Then I applied for the student loan. That’s when I realized how much the school was going to cost me.

Seventeen thousand dollars. Per year. And I had been so excited to get that $1000 scholarship. Financial aid assured me there would be other grants and scholarships available. I only needed to apply and wait. Meanwhile, I signed up for the classes and got my student loan for the first year. The other grants and scholarships never came, and I was on the hook for that $17K when I graduated or quit school, which was what ended up happening a year and a half later.

Overloaded trying to work and go to university full time in two different counties, I looked at the costs of continuing and what I would get from it and decided it would be irresponsible to keep spending money on an education that wasn’t going to get me a better stagehand job than the one I already had. Besides, I wasn’t doing very well academically anyway. It turns out that university classes take a bit more thought and time than high school classes and I couldn’t keep up while working for my living and at the school’s theater. I dropped my remaining classes, got an apartment close to work, and hoped to start working fulltime. Six months later, I started paying on those student loans. I started adult life at 20 years old, $24K in debt with a part time job as a seasonal stagehand at an amusement park.

That’s the moment I stopped looking for someone to tell me what to do in life and started making my own choices based on my own needs and my own thinking. It was terrifying but liberating. At first, I felt like I was failing at life completely. I couldn’t hack university life, dropped out, and now here I was.

Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. The work I wanted to do didn’t really require a degree. It required knowhow and contacts. I already had my foot in the door where I wanted to be, and I was gaining the knowhow every day I worked with new people that knew more than I did. It didn’t make any sense to keep racking up debt the way I was.

If I could change one thing about the end of high school, it would be to find someone that would actually help me make better decisions and plans for myself instead of steering me into what they believed was my best course of action. I needed more support getting to know myself and what I wanted from life those four years, not following someone else’s curriculum. I spent those years bored and waiting for life to begin and it really sucked.

Were You Allowed to Use Curse Words At Home Growing Up?

In stark contrast to my own children’s early lives, when I was growing up, curse words were not allowed. It didn’t matter how old you were, if your parent or grandparent was around, you’d get smacked for it. If your parent wasn’t around, it was open season. My grandma would smack my mom for bad words as quick as my mom would smack me, but it didn’t stop any of us from using them. The truth is, colorful expletives are useful, right? They express passion. Life just isn’t the same without either. Like I used to my tell my sons, you just have to know your audience to avoid being smacked.

I was probably about ten years old the first time I used a curse word in front of my mother, and I’ll never forget it.

Baking cookies is an excuse to use curse words?
Photo by Pam Menegakis on Unsplash

My mom and I loved to make chocolate chip cookies, and I can still see that kitchen in my mind. The windows, crisscrossed with wooden trim painted white, yellow kitchen curtains over the sink. And that lovely yellow and brown linoleum floor, the avocado green fridge and oven. What year is it? I know you know.

That oven was something special to me. There were two of them stacked one on top of the other in the corner of the kitchen. Next to it was an island with an electric stovetop to match. All in avocado green and chrome. I don’t think I’ve ever had two ovens like that again. Although sometimes I could have really used it!

Making cookies with my mom on a Saturday afternoon sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? It’s like a scene right out of a Hallmark Channel movie. Young, pretty mom with her long brown hair and big glasses, polyester slacks, and blue eye shadow. Honestly, I always thought my mom was the prettiest mom around. She was funny and boisterous, always had lots of friends. I watched her closely and envied a personality that could so easily greet people and make friends.

Most weekends my mom and stepdad had parties with their friends, playing cards and talking well into the night. You’d think I’d look back on it as a bad time, my parents were distracted partying with their friends and not taking care of us, but it didn’t feel like that to me. I was always enamored with them. I wondered what they were talking and laughing so loud about and would sneak out of my room, long after I was supposed to be asleep, creep down the hall toward the living room and listen. It sounded like fun, grown up fun that I wanted to be a part of.

Sometimes my mom would let me help mix and serve drinks before I went to bed. I felt so grown up. But after bedtime, I wasn’t supposed to come out of my room. I was too old to need my mom in the middle of the night. If got caught in the hall, I just said I was going to the bathroom or feign sleepwalking and my mom would just turn me toward my room and tell me to go back to bed.

I’d reluctantly return, feeling left out of all the fun. I climbed back in my twin bed, dressed in my long, little girl nightgown and lay there wondering what could possibly be so funny. I hear my stepdad singing silly songs, my mom groaning about putting down the wrong card, her friends picking teams for the next round of spades. It seemed like a grown-up mystery.

But Saturday mornings were for fun and I looked forward to it every week. We’d bake sweet bread and cookies mostly. Chocolate chip cookies were my personal favorite, not only because I loved them, but everyone else did too and we’d race to see who could eat the most. With four people living in the house and friends coming for cards in the evening, we had to make a lot of cookies to keep up with demand.

My job was to read the recipe and get out all the things we would need. I’d get the recipe card out of the metal paisley covered recipe box and lay it down on the counter. My grandma wrote this one out (off of a Nestle chocolate chip package I later learned). Her perfectly feminine cursive always impressed me. The delicate, evenly formed, precise loops. The gentle pressure of the pen. The clear lettering with no flourishes. It was serious and concise writing. Getting work done writing. Just like my grandma. Gentle yet serious. Hard but very loving. She didn’t need to get angry about anything. She didn’t need to scold, much. We all just felt compelled by her strength of character to behave.

I can recognize her handwriting the moment I see it and still have a few of those cards tucked away in that same metal box.

Setting the plastic wrapped card on the counter, I started to read it aloud: eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, flour. I’d get everything out and place it on the counter next to the recipe. I’d get the bowls, the big one and small one. The measuring spoons and cups. And place them on the counter too. Then I’d watch my mom go into action.

While she got the mixer out and plugged it in, she’d ask me to help by measuring the flour, salt, and baking powder into the small bowl. She’d put the butter and vanilla in the big bowl and start whipping it with the mixer. As she softened the butter, I would ask questions like, “Can I taste it now?” and hear, “Not yet.” At least a dozen times.

I’d pour in the sugars as she kept whipping the butter, and then the eggs, one at a time. When it was soft and fluffy, the beaters stopped, I got a chance to stick my finger in the mixture and taste it as she cleaned off the beaters. She would turn to see me licking my finger and scowl at me. “Not yet silly!” and I’d laugh.

My Mom would take the big bowl into her arms and I would slowly add the flour mixture to it as she stirred, one scoop at a time until the cookie dough was good and thick. Setting the bowl down to get the chocolate chips, I’d reach in a grab a pinch of dough. “There won’t be any left to bake if you keep doing that.” She’d admonish me, laughing at my antics. “Tastes like cookies!” I’d squeal.

Two scoops of chocolate chips went in next, minus the ones I stole when my mom wasn’t looking. I’d beg to be let to help stir them in only to give up seconds later and let her finish.

The big cookie sheet came out next, discolored and warped with age. Set out on the counter, it was my job to fill them with cookie dough balls! After having my own children “help” me in the kitchen, I have a better picture of what my work looked like to my Mom. Irregular shaped ball of dough in various sizes, scattered across the cookie sheet!

“All done?”

“Yep.”

And she’d open the oven, slide the sheet of deliciousness in and set the timer. Then we’d clean up a bit, putting away the ingredients and washing off the utensils.

It felt like forever had passed and I was a least a year older when the timer bell rang from the kitchen windowsill. Yes! Cookie time!

My mom had her hands in the sink, up to her elbows in soapy water. “Can you use the hot pad and get those out yourself?”

She couldn’t be talking to me. I looked at her incredulously. “You’re big enough. Be careful though. Don’t burn yourself.”

To a kid, being entrusted with any responsibility, any task usually relegated to adults, was a huge step up in life. The moment an adult talked to you as if you were their helper and not someone in the way, you felt taller and more noble. Someone had opened the door and said “Welcome!”

I tentatively picked up the hot pad glove and put it on. “Hurry up, sweetheart. They’ll burn. Careful. The edge is hot too.”

I opened the oven, reached toward the pan of deliciously brown cookies, caught hold of the edge and began to pull them out oh so carefully. As I did, my arm brushed against the side of the oven and I instinctively jerked my arm back, dropping the cookie sheet onto to the open oven door, yelping, “Shit!”

I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my Mom. I had startled her, and she came running over to help.

“Are you ok?” pulling my arm out to see the damage.

“Yes.” I said, with tears and not a little bit of fear.

She pulled my face up to look at her, “Don’t worry. Shit is exactly right. I would have said a lot worse.” Kissing me on my forehead, “Go put some cold water on it.”

The relationship between my Mom and I changed that day, all because of the use of curse words. She was no longer just my Mom, the dinner maker, keeper of the rules, and laundry washer. She was my friend. My mom was a person, just like me.

We finished baking several sheets of cookies without further burns. Many pinches of dough were stolen between sets. And once they were all done baking, we got a big glass of milk and set to making ourselves sick eating what was left with the help of my little brother and stepdad.

Four Reasons a Newsletter is Better Than A Social Media Feed

I can hear you now, “I don’t check my email. I never read newsletters.” But hear me out! Checking your email each morning and opening a couple newsletters each week, could be a far more efficient use of your time than scrolling any social media feed.

Newsletter vs Social Media Feed
Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash
Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash

If you’re an avid reader of mine, or happen to know me IRL, you know I’m an evolver. I’ve never been one to sit still long. It’s not because I’m bored and need to be entertained, like most people might think. It’s because I crave a new experience to learn from, something new to grow on. I’m a sampler of the world, a taster, not one who gorges (unless we’re talking about tacos).

I wander with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

That personality holds true to my writing and blogging, as well.

I’ve been blogging about books for over year now and that’s pretty damn consistent for me. My monthly newsletter, inspired by a book I read in January 2020, “Ten Years in the Tub” by Nick Hornby, (man…that feels like a million years ago), has been sent out a total of fourteen times.

Over the past year, I have learned a lot. I’ve become a much more predictable blogger. I’ve begun to find my voice through writing about what I read every day. This past month though, I’ve felt the pull to try something a little different, but I haven’t been sure what that is.

Right now, I’m looking at the monthly email newsletter a little differently since I listened to the Creative Nonfiction Podcast last week. At the end of an interesting interview, he mentioned that he had left social media almost completely over the past few months out of frustration mostly and was starting over in small ways. That’s where my ears perked up. I’ve been in the same boat. Once again, my thoughts and actions are not original, others are reacting to the world around us in similar ways!

And then, hours later, at lunch with a friend, she mentioned that she hadn’t seen something I posted until I messaged her directly about it. This happens often and I wish more people were aware of it. Social media feeds, specifically Facebook, aren’t timelines exactly. You don’t open it up and see what everyone you follow has posted chronologically. What you see is a curated list of what they think you want to see and what they want you to see. It’s not malicious. It’s just what it is.

While I was gone from social media, I found myself relying on email newsletters from websites, podcasts, and blogs that I follow. Now that I’m back on Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, (I’ll admit, I just want a place to share the funny things I find and get likes for my hiking pictures) I’m not “liking and following” pages anymore.

Why? Because the emails were far more reliable. Instead of getting only the posts that Facebook decides are important, along with ads for closely related items, I get the information that the poster believes are important. The weekly newsletters highlight things the specific blogger or podcaster wants me to see and when I click the links, I get to their page directly without the distractions embedded in Facebook. It takes less time and I get more of what I actually want.

Which leads me to thinking about my own newsletter. Should I change it from a monthly rundown of the books I’ve read to a weekly highlight reel straight to your email box? I think so and I’m sitting with paper and pencil (my go-to when I need to plan) attempting to create an outline this week.

I’ll be honest, a weekly newsletter seems a bit much for me. I’ve never been good at a weekly anything, just ask my kids. When the prospect of required weekly attendance came up for any of their activities…well…I broke out in a cold sweat. But this feels different.

In the past, I challenged myself to read for two hours every day and have been getting so close to that goal. I decided to write consistently about the books I’m reading; once when I start the book, quotes from the book, and a paragraph or two about it when I’m done. And then I took up the challenge of writing a newsletter once a month and did it. I think I can do this.

Why should you sign up for my newsletter, let alone any other email subscription? Well…

Here are my positives of an email newsletter. Maybe that will help you decide.

  1. It’s there when you want to read it.
  2. When you’re done reading it, or you decide you’d rather not, you can delete it and it doesn’t come back in your feed over and over again.
  3. There are no ads for related goods and services (at least not in mine). And if there are, they benefit the author of the newsletter, that person that you esteem so much that you subscribe to their news.
  4. If you open a newsletter, you stop reading at the end of it. You don’t get sucked into scroll mode!

What would my newsletter include?

  • Books, of course. Books started, books finished, links to articles about said books written by yours truly or others.
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with them, so I’ll be highlighting my favorites each week.
  • Funnies? Possibly.
  • One liners. Things I’m pondering but haven’t written whole paragraphs about.

When will this glorious piece of genius come out each week? I’m thinking Tuesdays. It’s my most productive day of the week, but I reserve the right to change that. The bottom line is that I’ll only harass you with in ONCE a week and I won’t be selling your email addresses to third party BS.

There it is! While I’ve written this, I’ve decided. I’m going to start writing a weekly newsletter instead of the monthly rundown. Will you join me?

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Emotional Slogans Work Wonders for Cola Wars, not Good Government

You’ll probably think this totally nuts coming from me but, I’ve been thinking about words lately.  Shocker, I know. More specifically, the use of emotional slogans and hashtags to gather followers of our causes instead of sound reasoning and logical discussion of ideas.

Slogans are for advertising cola wars. A store front of Coke vs Pepsi.
Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

The following few paragraphs may feel pretty muddled, but I have a few ideas rolling around in my head. They want to connect somehow, I can feel it, but I can’t get them to dance. I’m going to go ahead and throw this unpolished gem out into the universe the way it is and see what happens.

Here’s the thought that came to me while I was in the shower the other day. Lucky for you, I had my notebook in the bathroom just in case this happened, and I was able to capture it!

Two- and three-word slogans are great for deciding which cola to buy or which fast food burgers are the best, not your stance on issues like civil rights and immigration policies. It may feel like you’re rallying people to your cause with a hashtag this or that, but I think it does more harm than good. Good government stems from an intelligent and informed population of citizens, not a war between propaganda and advertising slogans.

The trouble is that, to have a decent conversation about ideas, we need a common language with a broad vocabulary. My concern is that I don’t seem to be able to increase mine no matter how hard I try.

As you have probably noticed, I read a lot and all the experts say that is the best way to increase your vocabulary and I’m sure it does. Over the years, I have learned more words and their meanings. I can usually infer what a word means from its context and if I can’t, or even if I can but am curious about the details, I’ll look it up. But I typically don’t use those words in my everyday speech, or even in my writing.

Why? I think it’s because I’m afraid I won’t be understood by the people around me, not because they (you, my dear reader) are stupid, but because our common vocabulary has become limited across the board and I want to be understood by as many people as possible. When I try to keep it simple, so more people understand, it comes out bland like cafeteria food, mainstream movies, and mass market paperback novels.

Another reason could be that if one doesn’t use a language often enough, one loses the ability to use it, even our native tongue. I don’t speak or write the words I learn through books often enough, so my brain tosses them aside and they become buried and forgotten.

There are a lot of ideas that get lost these days because we just don’t have enough common words to discuss and digest the things that are going on around us and in us. One word is used to describe a multitude of things. Depending on who is using a word and what context they are using it in, the same word can mean even more than what is even listed in our dictionary.

I have an example.

“Love” and “friend” are the words that have brought this to the forefront of my mind the past few weeks, although the trouble spans across our entire language. The thoughts have picked up speed since I started reading “Love & Friendship” by Allan Bloom earlier this month.

What does love mean? Anything you want it to. I love the cat when it purrs, the flowers in my garden, the candy my friend brought me, the woman at the grocery store that helped me reach the box of noodles that was above my head. I love my husband, my mother, my kids, my friend. I love hiking and reading and checking Facebook for likes.

Love…is a myriad of things. So, when I say, “I love you!” you really have no idea what that means.

And what about the word, “friend?” I think Facebook ruined that one, to be completely honest. If I ruled the world, they’d have to use a different word. But it’s always been a bit dubious. What a “friend” means is completely subjective, and you can’t hold others accountable for not behaving as friend should, unless you sat down with them and agreed about the terms and conditions beforehand.

What does this word stuff have to do with political slogans and hashtags? Everything.

We are a diverse culture, a combination of a myriad of backgrounds. Every time we write a sentence, we mean one thing and anyone that reads it brings their background into interpreting it. What I mean as sarcasm, you take as a serious attack. What I mean as kind, you take an unwanted advance, and someone else takes as an invitation to lord knows what.

When we dumb down issues with a short slogan to attract people’s attention, we aren’t giving the full spectrum of what our cause is attempting to solve. Instead, we’re attracting eyes with bright colors and flashy tags. Yes, some people will look and think, “Hells yes! I’m in!” but they have no idea what they are really backing. And others will see it and immediately be turned off and walk away simply because they don’t identify with that sliver of the message when they might have been staunch supporters.

Yes, I’m deliberately avoiding using actual slogans, but you know what they are. We see them all around us all day long, on every online platform, t-shirt, shop window, and car bumper. I’m not using them because the moment I say one, everyone reading aligns themselves for or against everything else I say. I do it myself.

What’s the solution? I’m not sure. I thought it was increasing my vocabulary, assuming positive intent, and trying to understand the ideas behind the slogans people were splashing all over their profiles. I had started with asking people to define what they meant when I see a slogan used, but that got me some pretty nasty replies, which is why I’m writing this.

Are we not aware that words have different meanings to different people? If I don’t know your motives or intentions, how do I find out without asking? How do we begin to understand each other if we’re discouraged from asking for clarification?

Lately, I’ve found it harder and harder to communicate with people, especially online. I had begun to think that we’d lost a common language, now I think it’s something else. Maybe we’re losing our empathy for each other. It seems we’re assuming that everyone is attacking us, that we are the victims of ill intent everywhere we turn.

I honestly think it’s a simple case of mass miscommunication. We all think we’re speaking the same language but we’re not. It’s starting to look like a modern-day Tower of Babel story.

I’ve read some great books that have helped me ask more questions and make an attempt to see the bigger picture. “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” by Robert Alter and “How to Read Nonfiction Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster are the first two that come to mind.

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