Category Archives: Personal

Nice Job! Not.

sumi-e

The other day, I was chatting with a new resident at my mother’s retirement community. When I told her (solicited) that I was a writer and editor, her response was nearly explosive—about how ill-suited she would be to such a line of work, due to an auditory learning challenge she shares with her son. I maintain a running, mental list of jobs I would be terrible at myself. Here is a sampling, accompanied by the reason(s) for my inadequacy:

  1. Taxi driver. I get nervous with people in my car, have a terrible sense of direction, and would probably decline to “step on it” if asked. I do, however, drive my husband to and from the airport frequently. His name for this service begins with B and rhymes with Uber.
  2. Roofer. I would look down, get dizzy, and fall off—the first day. Years ago, the twin boys across the street, about six at the time, would play on top of their house—as I watched in horror, wondering if I should call Child Protective Services. Incredibly, they are still alive.
  3. Alaskan king crab fisherperson. I have an intense aversion to drowning, hypothermia, and crippling injuries. The hours are long, cold, wet, and dangerous, whereas I prefer short, mild, dry, and safe.
  4. Restaurant server. I lack the upper-body strength to carry a bunch of plates at once. When I was a girl, I saw a waitress pour a tureen of scalding soup down a patron’s neck. I went on to enjoy my own (delicious split pea) soup, but the incident stayed with me.

This month, I have considered adding a profession to the list: nurse. With my mother in the hospital for four days and in a skilled nursing facility for sixteen (and counting), I have witnessed the dedication of nurses, certified nursing assistants, and nurse’s aides up close. These men and women possess all sorts of demeanors—friendly, businesslike, sweet, funny, comforting, cheerful, encouraging, serious. But universally, they are patient. And hard-working. And flexible, moving ceaselessly from patient to patient, wherever and whenever they are needed.

Thank you to Adam, Alex, Daisy, Feybe, Franklin, Marion, Nicole, Sandra, and Vic, who represent many others.

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Ten Things I Know about Sophie

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adoption-sophie

The adoption photo I couldn’t resist

When Dante died well over three years ago, people asked if we were going to get another dog. A month ago, when I saw a photo of five-month-old Sophie, I finally thought, “Yes.” She was in a foster home 125 miles away. Though she had spent months with a rescue I follow on Facebook, I had somehow missed all the posts about her. And somehow, she was still available.

Sophie came to live with us two weeks ago. Her introduction to Lucy, 12, and Cota, 9, went more smoothly than we could have imagined; they were all playing together within an hour. Sophie is affectionate, spirited, curious, and a quick learner; I taught her how to sit in the few minutes we were waiting in the exam room for her introductory vet visit. I look forward to learning more about Sophie, as she continues to wag and bound her way into our hearts. In the meantime, here are 10 things I can share about her:

  1. sweaterShe was born on the Fourth of July. Her birthday will be celebrated every year with fireworks.
  2. Her distinguishing features are her big ears, green eyes, and pink nose.
  3. She is very little. She can walk under both Lucy and Cota.
  4. She’s a good watchdog. She weighs 9 pounds but has the bark of a dog of 18 pounds.
  5. She loves the sun.
  6. She gets cold easily, so she often wears a sweater.
  7. She is the subject of numerous nicknames, including Soph, Sophster, Sofía Vergara, Little, Worm, and (Wiggliest of the) Wigglebottoms.
  8. She possesses unbridled enthusiasm.
  9. She murdered a pillow.
  10. She poops Tootsie Rolls.

Visit Cuddly Canines or the website of another animal rescue or shelter, to find your Sophie or to support the valuable work they do.

Um, I Invented Post-Its

romy and micheleLast night, I walked into an introvert’s nightmare: my 30-year high school reunion (class of you-do-the-math). I wasn’t totally unprepared. A selfless friend had taken me shopping for a cute top to wear with the black skinny pants I had ordered online. (I owe her dinner, though she deserves a medal—I’m a petulant shopper.) I exercised faithfully (two dog walks and a half-hour workout) every day for two weeks in order to fit comfortably into the aforementioned trousers.

The day before the reunion, I got a mani-pedi. As the 20-something manicurist performed a ticklish maneuver on my feet, she asked if a special occasion had prompted my visit to the salon. After I answered, she replied, “My mother recently went to her 30-year reunion!” Ouch. It dawned on me that I could easily have an adult child by now. Indeed, I would later find out that many of my former classmates have kids entering, or already attending, college.

At the reunion, I made another discovery: others (and not just the introverts) had also been apprehensive about attending. Why? Were we afraid that seeing our old cohorts might revive teenage insecurities? Did we feel pressure to show how little we had changed—or how much? Would there be a reckoning for issues that had lain unresolved for three decades? I joked with a friend (with whom I have remained in contact since high school) that we should have a signal if the event was not to our liking—exaggerated winking, pointing toward the exit, exclaiming with boredom. As it turned out, we didn’t need one.

I observed (as introverts do) that conversational groups would form and then shift, creating ever-changing combinations of individuals. I personally talked to about a dozen people. The toughest question for me was, “What do you do?” As discussed in a previous post, I don’t really like talking about my “flair.” I forgot my hair stylist’s advice to say I invented Post-Its (a la Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), but I think I did okay.

I’m glad I went. Two hours before I actually left, I started trying to leave, in anticipation of an hour-long drive home. But I kept getting absorbed in pleasant conversations with my erstwhile acquaintances. By the age of you-do-the-math, your high school days are a distant memory. Perhaps reuniting with the ones who were there confirms those times weren’t mythical—even brings you back to them.

They’re a fun place to visit.

On Purpose

necklace

My writing talisman

At least one subscriber to this blog has noticed that my posts are always published at the same time: Close to the end of the month. Very close to the end of the month. The last day. Sometimes a few minutes before midnight. Many months, I doubt I will be able to fulfill my self-assignment. Doing so requires that I place as much importance on what I wish to accomplish as on what others expect or need of me. In other words, I have to be as responsible to myself as I am to others.

menuDue to various commitments, it would be a relief to take this month’s post off my plate. Yet if I don’t cobble something together, here’s what will happen: At some point, I will search my blog’s archives, and there will be no entry for March 2016. I won’t get a failing grade, Earth won’t be sucked into a black hole, but I will know I didn’t meet my own minimum writing requirement. (Ironically, I have now completed the second paragraph of a post I didn’t have time to write. Similarly, in junior high, I wrote a poem called “If I Could Write a Poem.”)

Over the last six months, I have completed the first drafts of 2.5 short stories. (One needs an ending, and another needs a new ending—hence, the decimal number.) Next, I would like to take a novel-writing class. But my work projects are too demanding right now. I feel frustrated that I am devoting so much time and energy to activities that have nothing to do with what I perceive as my purpose in life—to share my ideas through writing.

I don’t know how many people ponder their purpose and whether or not they are living according to it. In New Age circles, this inquiry is hugely popular. Two individuals whom I respect recommended the same book to me on the subject, about creating the “great work of your life.” According to Kindle, I made it through 14 percent of it. Ultimately, I don’t believe my purpose is related to what I accomplish in the world—even if that is sharing my ideas through writing.

miami vice

“Miami Vice”: half pina colada, half strawberry daiquiri

In other words, I can still fulfill my purpose if I never publish a book or write one or even edit one. I can fulfill my purpose at the grocery store, on an airplane, or walking my dogs. I do it by being an example of love. Only love is real. To become aware of love’s presence, and to let it shine out through me, I need to let go of my grievances, which attack love. No matter what I seem to be doing—or seem too busy to be doing—I can always practice my real purpose.

Of course, I have found it is easiest not to hold grievances while vacationing in a tropical paradise . . .

 

Judge for Yourself

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I was talking to someone on the phone a few weeks ago, and something in our conversation prompted her to say, “I notice that you tend not to judge people. But it’s okay to judge. In fact, it’s necessary.” I’m pleased that I come across as nonjudgmental. But this impression is not exactly accurate. I judge. Then I try to catch myself, and stop. This takes conscious, daily (hourly, momentary) effort.

Judging others seems intrinsic to human nature. Why do we do it? Here are some ideas:

  1. Judging others lets us know where we stand. It helps us establish our position in the world, as better than some but not as good as others: “I am better than a murderer, but not as good as a humanitarian.” “I am better than an embezzler, but not as good as a spiritual master.” “I am better than someone who defaces public property, but not as good as someone who volunteers for disaster relief.”
  2. Judging others confirms that we are good. Thinking “that person is bad” implies that we are good, because we are able to recognize the evil in another.
  3. Judging others makes us feel stronger and safer. Judgment is attack, as evidenced in the hostile and aggressive way we condemn others for what we view as their trespasses. We attack because we are afraid, and the goal of attack is to hurt or destroy. Therefore, to judge is to attack what frightens us, with the intent to hurt or destroy it. Striking a blow, through judgment, protects us from a perceived threat.
  4. Judging others is a personal right. It is our prerogative, which we exercise to the extent that we individually feel entitled: “I have the right to judge people for their religious beliefs but not their political views.” “I have the right to judge people for their sexual orientation but not their physical appearance.” “I have the right to judge people for committing violent crimes but not for failing to pay their taxes.” I think we all claim the right to judge others who hurt us or who hurt our loved ones.
  5. Judging others is a personal responsibility. We need to let others know, if only with our thoughts, that they have crossed a line with their words or actions. We are enforcing a moral code.

On the surface, these reasons for judging others may seem befitting for existence on this planet. But I think they raise some questions:

  1. Are there really levels of human beings? Is one person more (or less) valuable than another?
  2. Are we truly sinless, while others are sinful?
  3. Does judging actually make us stronger and safer? Or does it teach us we are weak and vulnerable, because we feel the need to defend ourselves?
  4. Would we be willing to give up the right to judge, if it meant freedom from being judged ourselves?
  5. Is it really our job to point out where others do not conform to our standards or to the standards of society?

We judge others automatically, with no exceptions: the terrorist on the morning news, the slow person in front of us at the coffee shop, the colleague who throws us under the bus, our spouse for loading the dishwasher differently than we would. In my own experience, judging others provides an immediate, self-righteous high—which sours quickly. Once I sense the oppressiveness of my moralistic intolerance, I let go of the judgment—and feel instant relief. Many times a day, I come to the realization that judging others does not make me feel better about myself or my life.

Nonjudgmental people may be perceived as naïve or wishy-washy. But being nonjudgmental actually comes from a place of knowing and certainty about who and what we are:

  1. We are one. The metaphysically minded might say that we are one in spirit. At least most would agree, I think, that we are one in purpose—as cohabitants of the earth, striving for contentedness. Many would also probably subscribe to a unifying idea like the brotherhood of man. So, when we judge, when we single out a brother to accuse him of an offense, we are attacking the whole—including ourselves. That’s why judging others feels as toxic as being judged—we are pointing in a mirror. But by withholding judgment, we are saying, “I would not accuse myself of this.”
  2. We are innocent. Numerous thought systems and spiritual teachers instruct that our true nature is divine—that, in reality, we are perfect, whole, and innocent. This idea can be difficult to accept, in light of the sinful things we seem to do—of which we are guilty in the framework of the world. But if we go beyond the physical, to our essence, we are all sinless. In this condition, where sin does not exist, judgment has no function.

A popular caution against judging others is, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I hope that we can also say, “Let’s drop our stones, because we are equally innocent.”

 

What I Have Learned from Cupcakes

Birthday Cupcake

“Mini me” cupcake

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

Pumpkin pie cupcakes

If someone who knows me were to play word association with my name, he or she might come up with editor, blonde, or short, but not before cupcakes. My obsession with cupcakes started five or six years ago. I blame artist Wayne Thiebaud, whose thickly painted pastries really captured my imagination. (I even wrote a short story about his piece Pies, Pies, Pies.) Though not a cook or even a baker, I follow recipes, hope for the best, and post photos of the results.

Unicorn Poop Cupcake

Unicorn poop cupcake

Today is my birthday, so it seems an appropriate occasion to reflect on my relationship with these classically celebratory confections. Here are some lessons that cupcakes have taught me about life and dessert:

  1. Sometimes, the icing on the cake is literally the icing on the cake.
  2. Making a mess is much more fun than cleaning it up.
  3. Our creations inevitably fall short of our imaginations.
  4. Even if you visualize something over and over, it will never happen exactly that way.
  5. Having an obsession makes it easy for people to buy you gifts you’ll love (“Oh my God! Cupcake dish towels!”).
  6. Measure twice, bake once.
  7. Always keep chocolate in the house.
  8. Think on your feet (and wear comfortable shoes).
  9. Push yourself beyond what you know you can do.
  10. There’s no shame in having an entire drawer of sprinkles (or an entire cupboard, room, or wing of the house of whatever you treasure or collect).
Graduation Cupcake

Graduation cupcake

Ultimately, for me, cupcakes are about spreading joy. As I say on my neglected Twitter page, I love baking cupcakes for family, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, and anyone who will make yummy sounds while eating them.

And I always bake a few extras for myself.

Take Every Moment for Granted

Dante

I didn’t know it was the last time…

You would slurp noisily from the water bowl

You would crunch a stick in half

You would stumble into the bathroom to eat toilet paper

I would scoop your kibble out of the bin

I would take you on a walk around the backyard

I would give you your aspirin half an hour after lunch

Your little brother would snuggle up next to you

You would take a wrong turn trying to find the kitchen, while the others waited anxiously for the meal to be served

You would sniff the air

I would help you down the ramp

I would lead you to the fluffy bed in the living room

I would say, “Good dog!”

I would pick you up after you had fallen

If I had known, I would have paid attention to every detail, so I could always recall the moment with perfect clarity.

But if I had known, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the moment, because it would have been touched with a sense of loss.