Some Of Us Need A Step Stool To Get There

marten-bjork-30PX-R80Zd0-unsplash

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Tom Hanks wrote a book. Did you know that? I didn’t. I found “Uncommon Type” at Barnes & Noble a while back and picked it up. My first thought was, “Tom Hanks can’t write a book! He’s an actor. Just because you’re an actor and famous (and awesome) doesn’t give you the right to put your name on a book.” I scowled at it. Maybe it’s not THAT Tom Hanks but an author thinking he’ll cash in on people thinking it’s the actor Tom Hanks and buying it because…well…because Tom Hanks the actor is pretty impressive, his book would be impressive too. I wasn’t so sure. I flipped through, looked at the back, yep, there’s his picture. Interesting. “I’ll buy it but it better be good or I’m going to blog about it!”

Yes. This is exactly what went through my mind as I discovered the book and added it to my pile to read that I really didn’t need more of that day but…BOOKS!

Guess what? It’s awesome. I loved every one of the short stories I found inside. Some were more endearing than others. Some made me cry. Some made me smile. I closed it a little sad that it was over. I hope he writes more.

The book got me thinking in a couple of ways. First of all, I thought the stories were wonderful. As a writer, they inspired me. They are good stories that filled me with hope. “I could write stories like that someday,” I thought. Tom Hanks had his published because he, and the publishers, used his name. He has a built-in audience (one he has built himself with his skills as an actor) that’s sure to buy it. And that is awesome. That was my second thought. Step stools to get to the next level are not illegal or immoral. We use them all the time and we should.


I’m the shortest person in my house these days and there’s a step stool in my kitchen that I use just about every day. I got it when I moved into my first apartment. When I see it sitting there, in the corner of my office, I’m reminded of that apartment.

It was a studio apartment right next to Disneyland. My parents were not happy about the area I had chosen to live in, but it was what I could afford on my own, it was close to work, and I was determined to make it on my own. In my eyes, it was perfect. An older building with built-in cabinets in the bathroom, hallway, and kitchen. Up on the second floor of the building, it had a big front window that I could sit in and watch the fireworks from.

The front door had a slatted glass window in it, making it look like you were entering the laundry room and not another apartment. It opened to a long hallway that spilled into a large living room with a bedroom nook set in the corner. To the right from there was an old 50’s style kitchen with beautiful original cabinets and Formica countertops. The two-burner gas stove and oven had to be lit with matches that I kept in a magnet box stuck to the old refrigerator that came with the apartment. Between the living room and kitchen areas, was a short hallway that led to the bathroom, a pink and white enamel tiled masterpiece! The hallway had a built-in dresser at one end with a rusting mirror over the top of it. The moment I saw the place, I knew it was mine.

The only trouble I had was that everything was built so high up. The ceiling was probably nine feet high and the cabinets in the kitchen and hallway were built right up to it. I’m not “short” but at 5’ 5” I was going to need a step stool if I was going to be able to use all the storage space. I needed those upper cabinets. At 20 years old, I still had a lot of my teenage stuff and I was starting to build up my own set of holiday decorations just like my parents and my grandparents.

I made a point to stop at Kmart on the way home from work one day to pick one up and found the perfect thing. It was only one step, all I really needed, and the top opened to reveal a toolbox inside. Small, heavy, strong, and sturdy…kinda like me! I took it home that day and I’ve had it ever since. I’m 46 now. I chose well.

That step stool/toolbox now sits in the corner of my office, still filled with my own personal set of tools. A hammer, a screwdriver, hex wrenches, electrical tape, etc. In a house full of boys and men, it has always been nice to have my own set of tools that I didn’t have to search the garage for. They were kept sacred in my office for times when I just needed a small hammer to hang a picture or a wrench to tighten up a chair. And it always reminded me of my first apartment and my independent, single days.

Michelle! Why are you going on about a step stool?!

Hold on! I’m getting there.

Everyone is entitled to use a step stool in life to get to that thing that is just out of your reach. The key here is the active word “use”. It doesn’t matter really where you get the step stool, just that you do something with it. Some people are given one as a gift. They are born with it or their parents helped them. Some have to scramble and scratch to make one out of anything they can find. Some can buy one and some borrow. But no one is entitled to give you one. In fact, if you get one yourself, you’ll probably be better off in the long run.

Standing there complaining that you don’t have one, that you’re too short to reach, and waiting for someone to help you is a waste of your precious time and everyone else’s. You have important things to do in this life. You have particular talents that need to be expressed. If you can’t reach, get a step stool. If you can’t get one, build one. Don’t just stand there doing without that stuff on the top shelf. Don’t cheat yourself!

What Are Dreams Anyway?

I’ve always been a very vivid dreamer, but last night really took the cake. It’s been a long time since anyone had to wake me up because I was thrashing or crying in my sleep. Last night, even after my husband shook me awake and turned on the light, I continued to cry. Every time I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, the images returned and my sobs continued. After a few minutes, I decided to get up and get a drink of water but when I came into the kitchen, where my dream was, it hit me again. I sat on the floor and sobbed for a few more minutes. It’s been a long, long time since a dream has held me that long.

I’d been dreaming about arguing with my son and his girlfriend. She had brought more friends over late in the evening and I really didn’t want all those people in my house. I just wanted to be alone, but when I told them to leave they couldn’t because it was pouring rain and the road was flooded.
When we came back into the kitchen, my Grandma was there. She was just standing there in the kitchen in a white shirt and pants, not smiling, not looking at anything. I looked at my husband who was standing next to me as if to ask if he saw her. When I looked back at her, she didn’t move or say anything. She looked more like she didn’t know she was there.

I reached out to touch her and could feel her. That’s when I fell to my knees in front of her and put my arms around her waist, like I did when I was little. I buried my face in her body and smelled her and started to cry. Nothing was said, just felt. I missed her so much. I wanted her to come back.
That’s when my husband shook me awake.

This morning, when I walked into the kitchen for my coffee, it flooded over me again. I pushed it away and went to my corner of the couch to read. Every time I think back on it I feel that sob rise in my throat and tears stream down my face.

My Grandma was a big part of my life growing up. The cookie giver, the keeper of secrets, the holiday maker. We lived with her and my Grandpa on and off growing up. And in college, I spent a lot of time with her watching Star Trek and hockey games on TV. We didn’t always agree and we did have some pretty heated arguments, but at the bottom of it all was her love for me. I never doubted that she would always be on my side in the end.
In 2006, she suddenly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer. It felt as if one week she was fine and the next we were all gathered in her home, watching her slip away. I cannot imagine what she went through, and I cannot even fathom what my Grandpa must have felt having to stand by and helplessly watch. I was sad to lose her too soon, but not overwhelmed with grief. I remember feeling guilty about that. I remember sitting beside her and holding her hand, feeling her small frailness in my own rough hands. I remember talking to her cheerfully about what her Great-Grandsons were up to, how much they were growing. And I remember her last day, telling her how much I loved her and that she need not worry about us, that we would all be ok, that we’d take care of each other just like she would, and that we’d all see her again soon on the other side with Jesus. I believed that with my whole heart and still do, so I have never mourned her loss. I have always felt as if she had gone on a long trip that I couldn’t go on yet and that we’ll be reunited some day. There is nothing to be sad about.

What I have mourned is what has happened to my family since she passed on. It’s so strange. What I once thought was a tight knit extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins has fractured into a million pieces, as if we were all held together by her quiet strength and courage alone. We haven’t been the same since that day and that is what I feel I lost.

I have never before had such a vivid dream of my maternal Grandmother. In life, she was small, seemingly quiet and unimposing. She was the kind of woman that told you exactly how she felt about things and what she believed was right, without stepping on toes. It was so sweet the way she told you what was what that you wanted to comply because…well…she said so. I’ve never met anyone like her and suddenly I miss her more than I ever have.
Dreaming of her standing there in my kitchen with my family has shaken me. What was it? Why was she there? Was it a warning? Was she trying to tell me something I needed to know? Was she trying to wake me up to something I didn’t know was missing? Why does our subconscious work this way?

And the most upsetting part for me is that I wrote this yesterday and reading it over today, I still can’t hold back the tears.


For my readers, if you find this story touching or relevant to you in any way, please like and share. I hate to beg, but the only way my words can spread to others is by your social media efforts. Thanks for your help!

Pointless Fiction

You know when you learn something about someone that makes you feel less about them? Like you learn something about their past, their feelings about something important to you, the things they did growing up, or the things they do now and you’re like, “Ew. I do not want to get involved with that person!” But maybe if you did, you’d learn something about the world and about yourself; if you could separate the learning from the painful experience of dealing with someone else’s growing pains.

We all experience this with the people we meet, whether we want to or not, but we wouldn’t go looking for it and if we did, we’d be a mess. No one goes looking for pain…but many times painful experiences teach us the most about ourselves.

Reading fiction, novels, lets us do that without so much emotional personal pain. We experience other people’s lives and learn from them, but we don’t hurt from it as much because it’s not real, or if it is kind of real, at least it didn’t happen to us. It’s like looking at Medusa through a mirror. She won’t turn you to stone but she’s still hideous to see.

I’m reading a novel right now that makes me look at my life, my behavior and wonder if I have grown up at all the last 20 years. The characters in it closely resemble characters from my own life in my early twenties. I can identify with many of them and some of them I don’t understand at all, much like some of the people I worked with back then.

It’s fascinating learning from other people’s choices and points of view. Back then, when I was in college, would I have made similar choices if I were in that situation? Would I make different choices now? I believe I would but, to be honest, I’m not so sure. Sometimes I think I’m more mature, more open, more thoughtful, and then sometimes I catch myself falling into a tantrum fit over something instead of having a reasonable conversation. Some things about myself I want to change so badly and I realize there are some things I just need to accept.

But this isn’t about my behavior! It’s about novels and why we read them. Sure, they can be great entertainment, but they can be so much more if you let them, if you read them the right way, with your mind opened to learning from other people’s lives, fictional or not.

The best part about the character in a novel is that you get to hear their thought process, the reasons behind what they are doing. We rarely get that in real life. We only see our side of an argument, of a relationship, or an altercation in the workplace, on the road, etc. We only see our point of view. In a novel, we get to see all of it.

For me, reading novels reminds me that other people in this world are actually people with their own lives and agendas, their own traumatic childhood or disastrous family. The person at the stop sign next to me is not an NPC (non-player character) in my game of life. I had to go ask my son what that’s called, by the way. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those characters in the game that just fill space or give some background to the scene? They don’t really do anything. You can’t interact with them other than push them out of the way or run around them to kill time. The people in the grocery store aren’t like that. If you talk to them, they’ll remember it and go home thinking, “Wow. That person was so nice.” Or “What an ass!” They aren’t always there standing in line behind you or wandering the aisles looking for soup.

We get so wrapped up in our own lives that we start to think of the people around us as NPC’s. But I digress yet again.

Go read a book. Fiction is just as important as non-fiction! We can’t let ourselves get too wrapped up in it though, just like we can’t get too wrapped up in other people’s drama in real life. We learn what we can from story characters. Real people do need a bit more of our attention and love, but the bottom line is that their life is theirs, not ours. Besides, I have too much to read to take on your crazy life as well as my own!

Run For Your Lives! Teens!

56457722_10218584470033198_2593817718847176704_o

I can’t really say that I feel qualified to write with authority about young adults just yet, but I can write with confidence about my current observations and how we are coping with the transition from teen to adult in this house.

Recently, something strange happens when I talk to people about my kids. When I talk about what they are doing, their new girlfriends, their jobs, etc., people get weird. I can’t put the right word on it. They act “worried” for me or them. They act as though we are all standing on a precipice and at any moment the wind could blow and knock one of us off. As if right now is the most dangerous part of our lives. Anything can happen! Our lives could be ruined with one poor choice. It takes all the fun out of relating all the cool things my kids are doing, how they are changing, and how I’M changing to my friends and family.

I say “kids” but what I’m talking about are my young adults, full grown people that live in my house more like roommates than children these days. They have jobs, cars, and girlfriends. They go to college, pay taxes, and go on adventures without us. My youngest is under 18 and races motocross, so we still take him in our truck, since he doesn’t have one, and sign documents he isn’t legally allowed to sign but other than that, they pretty much take care of themselves.

And I don’t mean they always do it well or completely on their own. They mess up, as we all do all our lives. That’s how we learn. I try to help where I can. I offer advice when they ask, and sometimes when they don’t. They also make choices I would not make and that make me nervous. I do my best to stay out of it but sometimes my mom heart feels compelled to jump in and ask what in the world they are thinking. My belief is that they will be better at living with their own families if they can live this way with us. It isn’t easy and sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

Some day I think maybe I should be more “strict” like people say and tell them how it is around here. If they want to do things their way they need to move out and not involve me. But that breaks my heart. I want them to be able to bounce ideas off their Dad and I and know that we aren’t going to make them do anything or ridicule their choices. They should know that they can take our advice or leave it and we’ll still be there to love them.

And I want them to know they will always have a stable base to fall back to if their plans go awry.  We may not be able to buy them new cars or pay for college, but we can offer them a place to stay and food to eat. That’s a lot though, if you think about it. It won’t be luxury but at least they won’t be homeless. That doesn’t mean they have free reign to run off and be reckless. I’ve always wanted them to feel free to give things a try, to not be afraid of failing. Trying something and failing is different than doing something really stupid and paying for it. Our lifestyle of radical unschooling was supposed to show them the difference and so far, it’s been working.

Honestly, I think most people see their children begin to be adults and think, “This is where my life went downhill.” That’s when they begin to try and stop them from making the “wrong choices” they themselves made. As if there is a certain age that people get to and begin making rational “good” decisions instead of learning by living through the age and getting to the other side.

I see my young adult children differently. I think, “This is where the fun began, the adventure!” I smile in anticipation of all the glories they are about to discover. And I’m proud that we’re able to support them as they grow and be a part of their lives, even if it is from the sidelines.

Chaos Wins

Remember “The Butterfly Effect” movie? Chaos theory has always been fascinating to me. You just never know what kind of an effect anything you say or do will have on anyone else around you. I try to keep that in mind and do my best to keep a positive attitude and to use kindness to everyone around me, even in the smallest interactions. It doesn’t always happen, but I think I do better when I stay aware of my thinking.

One of those moments, one that changes your thinking in some small way, happened to me last week. I didn’t know it was happening at the time, but once I took a moment to meditate on the meeting, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was out for coffee with a new friend and we were talking about people, the town we live in, politics, the kinds of things you talk about over coffee. Coffee meetings need to happen more often folks, seriously. We could be doing wonders in this world!

He was talking about hiring new employees and had come across a young adult woman recently that said “No, don’t call me. I have social anxiety. I’d rather just text.” This is something I have said myself and was thinking, “That’s a girl who knows herself.” That’s when I was sent in another direction.

He said, “Can you believe that? That’s what we’re calling immaturity now, social anxiety. Grow up. People have to talk on the phone and in person to get work done. Yes, you may not like it and it may make you uncomfortable, but you have to grow as a person not just sit in your first instincts like an animal.”

I smiled and nodded, politely mentioning that I’ve struggled with similar issues myself, but we moved on to a new topic quickly, so I didn’t get into it much. To be honest, I was a little put off by his attitude.

We finished our coffee and conversation over the next hour or so. It was a glorious morning. Talking with new people, especially ones I feel I can be open and honest with and that want to hash out life’s intricacies really lights my fire.

On the way home, I kept thinking about what he had said about social anxiety. I’ve struggled with it all my life and about ten years ago realized that it was common and that there were millions of people that felt the same way. We want to interact with people. We aren’t introverts, happy to be alone, but for some reason we’re fearful of people. I’m not sure whether my feelings were caused by some traumatic event or if it’s just my natural inclination, but I’ve pretty much always felt it. Talking on the phone, specifically, has always been a problem for me.

My mother tried her best to help me over my natural “shyness” to no avail. I’ve had friends that have coached me on how they deal with the anxiety, the fear really, of dealing with new people over the phone and in person. But once I found out that there was a diagnosis for it, that other people “suffer” from it, I pretty much stopped trying to learn new ways to cope and get stronger and started using it as an excuse not to do things I didn’t like doing. Besides, the invention of texting and email made it very easy to avoid.

What kind of a life is that? It’s not like I’m happier alone. I crave contact with other humans. I love having lots of friends to talk to on the phone, through text, or in person, but for the last ten years or so I got it in my head that I was not capable of overcoming my shyness. I took refuge in raising my sons and being near my husband and left it at that. I had social anxiety. I had an excuse. What could I do?

There are lots of things shy people work to get over; speaking in front of groups, going to parties, not looking like a stammering idiot at interviews. It’s good for us to try and push our boundaries and do things we aren’t naturally comfortable doing. So why would I give up on something as simple as being brave enough to make a phone call?

So, this past week, I’ve worked on that. I’ve called people I don’t usually call. I’ve answered the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. Once, when a local friend texted me, I offered to meet at McDonald’s and talk over a big iced tea. We had a great time and we’ll probably do it again soon!

Now, what I want to know is, how do I keep a hold of this “empowered” feeling? If I can overcome one fear, I bet there are others I can face up to as well!

Note to my 24-year-old Self

This is another post from my old blog that I’m bringing over here. I wrote it a little over a year ago. It’s amazing how things are constantly changing.

“What would I tell my 24-year-old self?” That is the question I found close to the end of my “Entrusted” online bible study with Beth Moore. She said she’d tell herself nothing, not because she wouldn’t listen anyway (which was my thought) but because the journey was worth not knowing. Does the journey make the destination that much sweeter?

Would I be the 44-year-old person I am today if I had not lived and learned through the 24-year-old self I was? I don’t think so. I think if I hadn’t lived the way I did, learned from it, changed through it, and moved on, I would be an entirely different person now. I like who I am now. The only thing I would wish for myself is that it hadn’t taken so long, that I hadn’t hurt so many people through the process.

My journals stopped in late 1992, the year I turned 20. I have pictures from that time but they start to be less and less frequent until 1998. Six years. From the year my Mom moved to another state and I was left here, living with a boyfriend until the year I met my husband, and my friends helped me move to my own place. Wow. Such a dark time. I vaguely remembered it until I paged through some pictures and wrote down the events on a time line.

I had met someone, whose name will not be mentioned. He is the only person I actually got rid of any pictures of. I have had loads of boyfriends and they are still friends. I have pictures of them in my albums. I still talk to most of them on Facebook. There is one (maybe two) that I really hurt back then and they have disappeared, but this one had such an ugly effect on my life during those years that I still don’t want to be reminded of it. He took up four years of my life. For four years I must have been one of the most miserable people on earth. I sometimes wonder if anyone around me really knew what was happening. I know a couple did and tried to help, but we were all so young and wrapped up in our own dramas, there was little anyone could do if I wasn’t willing to help myself. I can’t relive those times and write about it, even now, but I wanted to give you the feeling of it in the context of those times as I think of what I would tell my 24-year-old self.

“You are worth so much more than this. Here’s a book about Jesus, a journal, $200 to get started on a journey, and my phone number if you want to talk. You are not trapped or held by anything but your own mind.”

Two things changed my life in 1998. The first was getting the job I had dreamed of for six years. I had a decent income and new friends. The second was that I saw my future husband from the back of a pickup truck at that job. He was standing outside the lunch room, we locked eyes when we saw each other again, just like in the movies. It had been six years since we had seen each other and I had disappeared without a trace. Something began to happen at that moment. That’s when I began to have confidence in myself as a human being.

It didn’t happen all at once. It took years to recover. Only now do I see how far I’ve come. And then that question, “What would you tell your 24-year-old self?” I think I agree with Beth Moore. I wouldn’t tell her a thing. I’d just love her right where she was, knowing she would survive and what she’d become.

Survival

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good. And in most cases you should be helped by the saying of Epicurus, that pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to them in your imagination. Remember too that many common annoyances are pain in disguise, such as sleepiness, fever and loss of appetite. When they start to get you down, tell yourself you are giving in to pain.” — Marcus Aurelius

I never understood this idea until this past weekend when I had a chance to practice it. Funny how that works, I read and study constantly and sometimes I wonder why. Most of the time I don’t even have an agenda for my reading. My books, articles, and podcasts seem to come at random. But then, there I am moving through life, and I recognize a situation and think, “This is what they were talking about!”

I was in a situation this past weekend. What that was isn’t important, but let’s just say it was a typical family get-together. Anyway, there I was, sitting amongst some of my relatives in a restaurant when I began to grow uncomfortable. Too many people I didn’t know, too much being nice, uncomfortable clothes, I really didn’t know what it was. I needed a break, so I excused myself and went outside for air. I texted my husband and we went back and forth a few times. In the past I wouldn’t have gone in the first place or, if I did go, I’d have had an exit strategy, but this time I didn’t have my usual escape plans. I took a deep breath and went back inside.

My escape was blocked, and, in the past, my next behavior would have been to get angry or “piss on” whatever was going on, but I realized something as I sat there, I could choose to just “be there” like the Stoics said. This isn’t unbearable, and I could just let it happen and do nothing, not react. So, I tried something new, something I’d learned from the Marcus Aurelius. I just played along and watched. I let it all wash over me and away. I came home and described everything that happened to my husband, complaining as I went, and then went to bed.

The next morning, I realized that I’d learned something. I hadn’t left and made people feel awkward. I hadn’t lashed out and made people feel angry. I had listened and learned instead. I realized it was only me that felt any pain. It was only in my head that a tragedy was occurring. There was no need to make everyone else feel it. They are not bad people doing bad things, they are just different. We only have different tastes, that’s all.

I’ve been rather estranged from my family the past ten or so years. It’s been difficult, but I think things are changing. I think I’m finally growing up. Maybe the next one will be more fun. I’m hoping so. Family is too important to lose over anxiety and differences of opinion.