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

Tag: creative non-fiction

Why My Personal Story Telling Helps Me Stay Connected

Story telling isn’t just for entertainment and gaining attention. And it comes in so many forms. What medium do you use to tell your story?

Story telling to preserve one's self quote on a desert background.
That’s Calico Ghost Town in the back ground. There’s a family story to that too.

“Stories are a way to preserve one’s self. To be remembered. And to forget.
Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books.
Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives – to find strength in a very long one.”

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

What drew me to this book in the first place was the reference to stories and a bookstore, so it makes sense that the first quote I share from it would be this. There’s a lot here, though, so I’m going to try to pull it apart a little.

“Stories are way to preserve one’s self.”

I’ve always been chided and teased for story telling in every conversation and not just because I’m getting old(er). Even when I was in my early 20’s, I’d be at work telling someone the story about the time I went water skiing and got so sunburned or the time my brother jumped off the roof. As I got older, married, had kids, etc., the stories just kept coming.

I take pride in knowing that I will be that old lady in the corner of the livingroom spinning my yarns, “I remember the time…” and all my great-grandkids will want to listen but everyone else will roll their eyes. “We’ve heard this one!”

Why do we tell stories about our past?

“To be remembered. And to forget”

I want my friends and family to remember the things that have happened to me and the things we experienced together. I can write them down for posterity, and I frequently do, but telling them is my favorite. Something about sitting and remembering together is so comforting. It’s like reaching out to touch your partner in the night, a reminder that we are all still here.

When we’re together telling stories, some of us add details or their own perspective, things each of us might have missed. We solidify the story each time we tell it, a verbal family history. It’s the ultimate “family bonding” time.

We also tell stories “to forget.”

In that moment, when we are together with friends and family, swapping stories about our past, sharing tales of our childhood, embarrassing our teenagers with their cute baby stories, we put the current time with all its stress way into the background. For those moments, we don’t worry about bills that need to be paid or that meeting we need to attend at work.

Hearing each other’s stories like this also puts today into perspective. We may be currently stressing over work, home, business, and the state of union, but when we hear all our stories, we can see that nothing has changed that much. Our parents and grandparents worried about the same things. Life just keeps on going, kids do crazy things, adventures are had, no matter what is happening in the world.

What form can stories take? Like she said, “in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books.” Most of our stories come in the form of words told over the dinner table or sitting around the livingroom, but some come in the form of a quilt my aunt made, a ceramic figure my grandmother crafted, or painting by my mother and her friends. It can also be the song my sons play, the robot they tried to make with their dad, and the video my stepdaughter made and posted on youtube. They are all connected to memories, things that help each of us be remembered and live longer in other people’s memories.

And this, “Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives…”

That’s why I read, but it’s also why I tell my stories. I am not just my life. I’m all the lives that came before me, all the lives and portions of lives that I’ve lived and heard of. My children and my grandchildren will have my life a part of theirs. Hopefully, my great-grandchildren will live a part of my life as well, even if they never meet me.

The quilt I made, the blog post I write, the pine tree I tended and got to grow tall, as well as the stories I told while we walked in the desert, are all part of the story that pass into the future.

Addie’s curse didn’t allow her to do that. She could live forever, be a part of the world forever, but no one will remember her. Her curse allowed me to see the beauty of what I have. And that’s why I love reading books.

I blogged about “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” when I started reading it back in January. It certainly didn’t take me long to read it all. I couldn’t put it down! Have you read it? You can find it on Thriftbooks.com if you don’t have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments when you read it!

Relationship Problems: You Need the Right Tools to Repair Them

Do you solve your relationship problems with the wrong tools? I frequently do. It’s reactionary. I sense an issue and immediately reach toward the nearest tool. What can I do instead? Wait. Listen. And communicate. Sometimes things just need time.

Relationship problems quote on a desert background.

“The trouble that broke up the Gordon Winships seemed to me, at first, as minor a problem as frost on a window-pane. Another day, a touch of sun, and it would be gone.

The Breaking up of the Winships by James Thurber

Imagine getting up one cold and wet winter workday morning. You come downstairs into the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee first thing. Thank god for coffee pots with timers! Make some toast, drink your coffee, while you stare out the window. Man, it looks cold out there. You glance at the clock, ugg…I better get moving.

Showered, shaved, and “dressed for success,” you grab your car keys as you open the front door and take that first step into the frosty air, only to find the car windshield covered in a heavy frost.

“I can’t drive it like this! What can I do?!”

You grab a hammer from the side of the yard where you were working on the fence over the weekend, walk back to the car and smash the windshield in, gummy tempered glass shards cascade down inside the car, covering the dashboard and seats with a glittery mess. You wipe it off with a mittened hand, letting loose a satisfied sigh.

“That’s better. I can see through it now.”

Only you can’t. There’s a reason that cars have windshields. By the time you get to work, you’re windblown and covered in dirt and ice.

No one in their right mind would do that. We all know that we’d wait for the sun to warm it if we had time, use the windshield wipers to clear it away, or get out the ice scraper in those colder climates where I still can’t believe people actually live. There is a myriad of logical ways to clear the frost and still have the comfortable use of your vehicle.

And yet that’s how we try to solve our relationship problems every day.

An old co-worker that used to like and comment on all your social media posts. A friend that used to call you every week for coffee. A lover that always brought a gift when he came to visit. Your partner seems to not be as excited to see you when you come to bed. Instead of having the patience to wait for a mood or situation to pass, instead of looking into the why and solving the mystery, we break the windshield and attempt to keep driving.

Communication is what’s missing from our relationships.

We all feel and react as if we are operating completely alone in this world. Each of us walking around in our own bubble of reality, believing that the beings that move in and out of our lives are simple non-playing characters in our game. What if we didn’t?

What if, instead, we began to take a breath and wait at first? We could observe, journal our thoughts for a bit. Maybe we’d find it was us that had brought on the frost. Our bad mood or busy schedule has made it difficult for our relationship to go as it had in the past. That can change. Maybe the other person is going through something. We could ask, take the initiative to spend some quality time finding what’s going on.

“I’ve noticed,” you say. “Is there something wrong? Is there something I could do?” And then you listen and respond.

We need our windshields intact to use our vehicles well, to get where we are going. We need our relationships the same way. Sure, we can survive without them, but it’s much more comfortable and safer if we have those people in our lives. Let’s learn to communicate instead of just breaking the windshield.

This book was filled was some wonderful short stories and memoir pieces that sparked my creativity and inspired my thinking. Want to read more? Go back to my first post about it, “The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber.

If you want to read more about him and his work, check out his website James Thurber.org.

“A Man Without a Country” by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut book cover on a desert planter background.
Old Books Smell Good

I’m not a fan of Vonnegut. I know! Everyone likes him! But I find him funny in a negative way, not an uplifting one. Like…we’re all going to die, everyone is horrible, ha ha…kind of way. It makes me sad. And, according to my astrological sign, that’s intolerable to me.

And it is, really! That’s what’s so strange to me. I know not why, but I looked it up yesterday. My squirrel brain was overly active, so I decided to let it run free and follow it, much like I’m doing right now.

I’ve always been fascinated by horoscopes but a little skeptical, but then something comes up that is so right, and I think, “The stars know me!” Yesterday was one of those days. I swung all the way from “This is ALL SO much bullshit!” to “I’m basing every decision from here on out on what my stars tell me!” in a matter of minutes.

Where was I?

Oh, yes!

Kurt Vonnegut makes me sad, so I make him go away. But his stories are good, I’ll admit that. This book, specifically, is another one I picked out of the redistribution library back in December, “What Did My Blog Accomplish in 2020?” Why did I pick up a book by an author I’ve already read but don’t enjoy? Because I’ve heard of it and if I’ve heard of it and haven’t read it, it goes in the TBR pile!

So here I am reading it, laughing, and then then thinking, “Geez, Kurt. Way to be a downer.” I don’t always agree with him. Our politics are different and so are our personalities and outlooks. I’m giving it a chance because even if we have NOTHING in common, I can still find something to enjoy about a book by another human that lived on this earth.

Do you like Kurt Vonnegut? Have you read his books? Watched the movies? You can find his books at Thriftbooks.com! Leave me a comment and tell me what you think! Hell, leave me a comment and tell me what your sign is. I’m a Sagittarius, but you probably already know that.


“Four Reasons a Newsletter is Better Than a Social Media Feed”
Bypass the social media algorithms and sign up for my weekly newsletter. Each week will give you a rundown of my favorites posts, podcasts, and few funnies. Read what you want, when you want, without getting sucked into the endless scroll mode!

Would You Want to Come Back for a Day?

Book quote on desert background.

“Theaters traditionally always closed for at least one day a week, leaving on the ghostlight, to appease the ghosts. To allow them one day on the stage to perform their acts. To live and love and hate and triumph on the stage like the living.”

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

The ghostlight allows the dead to come back for a day.

I grew up in the theater, mostly backstage. It started in elementary school with school musicals. I remember working so hard on learning to sing songs from Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My mom made my costumes, and I was proud of those shows and myself for being up there.

In junior high school, I took acting lessons after school and, because I felt like I could not dance to save my life, I joined the “drill team” for more movement practice. I vaguely remember not wanting to continue, but my mom wouldn’t let me quit. I’ve always been shy, self-conscious. My mom thought those classes would help me and I remember being angry and fighting her about it.

Here’s a weird thought though, did I fight with her about them? I’m not sure about memory anymore. I think we build up bigger stories on what little we actually remember about our lives. The farther back you go, the bigger the story.

I continued theater in high school, acting when I absolutely couldn’t get out of it (and badly), and eventually moving backstage to do tech work; designing and building sets and running the shows as the stage manager. Those classes propelled me forward into university as a theater major, possibly the least useful Bachelor of Arts degree ever created. Luckily, I caught wise during the third semester and dropped out, but I paid a lot of money for that lesson.

I got a job a Knott’s Berry Farm as a stagehand, moved through the ranks there for several years, and then returned to Disneyland as a stage technician. It felt like eons as I went through it. Looking back on those ten years of my adult life…not so much, a blink in time. And all so long ago now, fading into the past.

The ghostlight brought it flooding back.

Theaters are full of superstitions, some based on actual safety issues. Whistling on stage is bad luck, because the riggers above and backstage were usually ship riggers and they signaled each other with whistles. The wrong whistle heard at the wrong moment could get a piece of scenery dropped on you.

Ghostlights are another superstition built around a safety precaution.

The stage is raked down toward the audience and drops off, usually at least three feet at the foot without a warning like a handrail. Past that front edge is typically the orchestra pit, filled with chairs and music stands. So, when the stage is empty and unlit, there is a ghostlight set up; a single bulb on a stand, rolled out to the center of the stage and kept lit just in case someone wanders in and doesn’t realize where they are. It keeps creepers from getting themselves killed and becoming new theater ghosts, which, trust me, we really don’t need.

As a stagehand and a manager, I have been the one to put out the ghostlight many times. It was one of my favorite things to do and I often stood there with it awhile to take a breath. A theater week can be exhausting, six long days of activity. Crews and performers fill the building from top to bottom. And theater people are not low-key or reserved in any way. At the end of the day, and especially at the end of the week, setting that light up and shutting everything else down, was somehow special, comforting. If I could go back in time, I’d take those moments more often and consciously meditate a while.

This story used the “ghostlight” as a transportation device from hell. The “ghosts” of humans can use this device to spend one day back on earth. They used it to finish things they had left behind when they died or visit with the living. They had to return before the light burned out though, or the hounds of hell would come to get them.

It seemed a perfect literary device for such a simple safety precaution, adding more spiritual drama to an already loaded superstition.

If you were stuck on the other side of the veil, aware that the old world existed, would you want to come back for a day? What would you do? Relive a moment, visit a relative, or comfort a friend? Would you have a mission you’d want to complete, some unfinished business?

Interesting idea, isn’t it?


Want to read more posts related to the book, “The Library of the Unwritten?”

Do We have the Ability to Choose the Meaning of Our Life Story?

Connection Through Words

“The personal essayist writes, I think, for himself and people – even though he has never met them – he assumes are potentially his friends.”

The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery by Joseph Epstein

That’s exactly why I write the things I do, in the hope that someone out there will connect with me through my experiences. I don’t even need to know you and we have moved humanity forward by sharing the things we love, the books we’ve read, and the events that have changed us.

Strange Stalkers

They are up to something I just know it. Just as I sat down to write to you about them, I heard them gathering again just outside my window. Their innocent chatter doesn’t fool me. When I looked out, there were about fifteen of them, a bigger group than I saw yesterday, mostly grown and clearly looking for trouble.

Yesterday I went out front to water some of my plants before the sun got too hot. The dog went rushing out and down the driveway as she always does, racing to see if she can flush out a rabbit or two to chase away. Her beagle instincts say chase, but with her short corgi legs she never can catch them. She doesn’t even seem to be trying. It looks to me like she has more fun just scaring them out of the creosote bushes and running them off, trotting back to the driveway with her tongue hanging out and tail up, that “happy dog” look.

As I drag the hose around to the few trees and juniper bushes I have out front, the cat comes sauntering out of the gate. He sits on the front porch with that bored look all cats have, as if he just can’t believe he’s stuck here.

The water bowl is refilled, the agaves sprinkled when I notice a fat quail leap up into a Joshua tree in the garden walk. I love the way one of them always gets up high as a look out for the others. He warns them of any potential problems, and I swear gives the direction it’s coming from because they all seem to stay carefully aware and moving away from any predators…except my cat.

This time I heard the lookout give a chirping warning to the covey below and then hop down from the tree and join them. They were moving away from me and the hose, I thought. Then I saw the cat on the path, just walking slowly like a lion on the Savanna. He wasn’t stalking, just walking along toward the pine tree at the end of the driveway, not a care in the world.

Once he was out in the open, I noticed the quail about ten feet behind him, tentatively following him. He had to notice they were there, their chattering was hysterical, but he kept walking. When he got to the shade of the tree he stopped, and his followers stopped too, a group of about ten mostly grown quail. I stopped watering, stood still, and watched as the drama unfolded.

The cat continued up the driveway toward the house, seemingly unaware of the little marauders at his heels. He moved slowly, not making any sudden moves. The quail moved in one large group behind him, getting braver if the cat kept moving, but stepping back flustered whenever he slowed or looked back at them.

They reminded me of teenage groupies after a handsome young movie star. Star struck, they clearly want an autograph but not a single one is brave enough to approach and ask their hero directly for what they want. They keep pushing each other closer, “No, you ask!” “No, you!” “I’ll go if you do.” “No way!” It’s hilarious. I can barely keep myself from laughing and breaking up the whole show.

Once the cat got closer to the house, he stopped and sat in the shade of a bush. The quail stayed behind the next bush, chirping and squeaking amongst themselves, jostling for position. The cat made a move to straighten his fur as he sat and they all rushed a few feet back to the next bush, only to make a comeback when they realized he wasn’t moving toward them.

I kept watching, wondering what the plan was. What were they trying to do? Keep him away from a nest? I’ve seen a young couple do that to him in the yard before. They can be aggressive if he gets near where they have been nesting. But these were not nesting adults, they were a teenage gang. Maybe they were made brave this year by their swell in numbers. I’ve never seen this many quail broods and in such large sizes, as I have this summer. One group of tiny babies numbered over twenty-five birds!

The cat was on the move again. He continued his return to the shade of the porch and his stalkers kept up their pursuit, albeit from a safe enough distance. As he came around the bush and towards the gate, our dog noticed him and bounded to greet him, scattering the birds all over the yard.

I laughed out loud at the front yard antics and went back to finishing up the watering. I told him he should probably be a little careful out there. They are up to something wicked; I can just sense it. He seems to think he can handle the situation because today he was out there lounging on the front porch as usual. He can’t say he wasn’t warned.

The Rabbit Hole of “Curated”

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Stick with me here. It’s worth it!

I started reading a great book this morning called, “The Revenge of Analog – Real Things and Why They Matter” by David Sax. It was recommended in an article about keeping physical journals, ones that you write…by hand…with a pen!

I’ve been keeping journals on and off since high school. I find it interesting how little my handwriting has changed over the years and how much it can drastically change in a week or even a day when I’m rushing or angry.

But sometimes I wonder, will anyone ever read them? I sincerely hope they don’t! Or at least not while I’m alive. Most of them are filled with craziness that I wouldn’t normally express. Something about writing every single piece of bullshit out with a pen often helps me let said bullshit go. If I can’t say it, I write it, and then I feel better.

I have taken long and short breaks from journaling over the last..um..thirty years. The longest break was in my early twenties. Man, I wish I had taken the time to write things down back then, but maybe that’s just stuff best forgotten.

Then there are times when I wonder what the point of all this writing is; the futility of writing down thoughts that never see the light of day, the lists, the dreams, the angry rants. There’s just so much there, even if I wanted to, I’d be hard pressed to go back and make any sense of it on a regular basis. Then an interview on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast gave a great idea to help me fix that!

The author being interviewed said he looked back on his journals and notes every month and put together a newsletter for his audience of all the most interesting things he found, ideas, and quotes. I don’t have a big audience to share that kind of thing with and even if I did, I’m not sure they’d want to see that far into my reality. But it would be a healthy exercise for me to take an hour or two a month to read what I wrote the last thirty days and write myself a nice summary. I tend to forget the ups and downs in month, or a week for that matter, and this practice might shed some warm light on my attitude changes. There may even be a blog post in there.

You see, I’m one of those people that has a short attention span and a weak memory. When I’m feeling good, I think I’ve always felt good. When I’m feeling down, I get depressed and think I’ve always been down. It’s weird but the best way for me to combat that is to write things down.

Want to know something weirder? I do the same thing about making dinner. If I haven’t had time to make dinner for my family for a couple days in a row, I get it in my head that we are ALWAYS going out to eat or scrounging for frozen pizza. If I write what I made for dinner on the calendar, I can look back on that last few weeks and reassure myself that Taco Bell employees do not know us by our first names.

I guess I should circle this back to that book I started reading this morning. You do know this post is about a thought I had while reading that book, don’t you? Welcome to my brain. It’s fun. Trust me.

Reading that book made me think about the word “curated.”

“Curated” is an adjective that means “(of online content, merchandise, information, etc.) selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge.” It has come up in my thinking a couple times this week.

When you hear the word curated, you probably think of museums but in this case, I’m thinking about printed magazines and books.

Here’s the deal. (That’s for my husband. He hears that sentence several times a day from me.) The internet is an amazing place because everyone can put their “art” out in the world for free. You can have a free social media page, keep a blog or vlog, self-publish a book, record your music and have people all over the world download it, or put your visual art up for the world to see and love. It’s a world of infinite and free information! But there is a down side. It’s not all worth spending time on and we each only have so much time and attention!

So here we are scrolling through our social media pages, hopping from one blog post to another, randomly finding and playing music, and reading “news” article after article. It feels like a waste of time.

How can we fix this?! How can we spend our currency of time and attention more wisely? Enter “curated” content, otherwise known as a book, magazine, music album, or “TV” station. Yep, it turns out that those that can pay a little extra are moving back towards things like book stores, paper magazines, and news stations for their information. It seems we’d all gladly pay someone we trust to sift through all that content that’s being created and present us with curated information that has already been vetted, organized, and is relevant to our needs. The hard part is finding an author or an organization you can trust!

It’s amazing to me how we create new technologies that will open up the room and air things out like a big spring cleaning. People rush in to see it all and find new ways to use it, but when the dust settles, the tried and true comes back. The old ways with a fresh new look!

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