Monthly Archives: October 2007

Writing a Memoir

I was just asked–again–if I would some day write my memoirs.

First of all, no. Second of all, why? Third of all, who would read it?

There’s no question that I’ve lived an interesting life so far, but big deal. Don’t we all? From some perspective, every person on this planet has led an amazing life, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some are just more public than others. Some are grander and make better press. Mine is small potatoes.

And yet I encourage people to write their memoirs, if only to put their experience on paper for their own expression or for successive generations. I wish my grandparents had written theirs. Or their grandparents. 

I believe that everyone who is moved to write the story of their life should do exactly that.

I could write my story, I suppose, but I am prone to exaggeration. I am first and foremost a fiction writer, and stretching the truth seems logical and legal whenever I’m sitting at the keyboard (or schmoozing at any kind of a social gathering). I’m working on that.

I believe that writers are the chroniclers of our times and the keepers of our literature, and we would be bereft indeed if nobody wrote their memoirs.

I guess I consider my story to be embedded in the other things I write.

This blog, for instance.

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Living Conflict Free

My goal is to live a conflict-free life.

While I’m a long way from achieving this goal, I believe it can be done. And, of course, I accomplish it in bits and pieces of every day, sometimes several days in a row.

Since I set out on this goal several years ago, I’ve had a few stunning insights. The first is this: To conflict or not to conflict is entirely up to me.  Whenever I get mad at Al, or we start up that escalator to an argument, I can stay on all the way to the vicious top, or I can merely step off and it’s over.  I may still seethe, and need to find a quiet place to get control of myself, but I do not have to engage in conflict with him or anybody else.

And what am I angry about, anyway? I heard someone say on NPR a dozen or more years ago: “Angry words all say the same thing– they say ‘what about me?'” So when I find a little solitude to examine what’s behind my anger, I can usually settle myself down pretty well. What exactly is the source of my fear that makes me so small that I have to ask: “But what about me?”

Is fear the source of all anger? I think it is.

And I’m certainly not going to change him or anybody else I might be angry with, so if my motivations stem from subversive attempts along those lines, I see those pretty quickly. If I’m angry, then I’m afraid, and I need to look into that a little more carefully.

I learned in my twelve-step program that there are only two things to be afraid of: Not getting something I want, or losing something I have. Neither one of those things is really a valid fear, if I’ve got faith. If I’ve done my work, then what I get, what I get to keep and what I get to lose are really not up to me.  I don’t have a lot of control over my life, but I have total control over my attitude.

I heard the other day that virtually every conflict within a person begins with a conflict between people. How annoying is that? But if not for a “potential” conflict (remember, my goal is to live without conflict) with someone, I would have no cause to examine myself. I don’t always like what I see, but it’s only when I actively look for the weeds in my personality that I am able to find them and pull them out.

But I don’t go looking for trouble, either. I don’t purposefully put myself in situations where I am likely to encounter meaningless conflict. I took to heart something Jack Canfield said to me one time: Avoid toxic people. Over the years, I have taken myself out of their company, and refuse to get sucked back in. A hard line to be sure, but I have come to look at it as a survival line. On my side is peace. On the other side is spirit poison.

Living conflict-free is quite an elusive goal, but the little glimpses of the serenity it affords are so attractive that I actively pursue it.

It’s a good thing I have a patient husband.

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Filed under peace, relationships, Spirituality

Foot Firmly in Mouth. Again.

I did it again. I opened my big mouth and voiced a strong opinion about something that was none of my business to a person who shouldn’t have had to listen to it.

I do this regularly, and then it wakes me up in the night and I have to call and apologize for letting my mouth run away with me. Good grief. Shouldn’t I have learned a little restraint by now?

I can see my motives. I can see that I care about the person I was talking with, not wanting her to be hurt or used or taken advantage of. To bring a different perspective of the situation to her attention is one thing. That’s what friends do. To mouth off my strongly-held opinions quite insistently about what she should do about it is another thing. That’s rude.

And besides, that presupposes that I know what is best for her. It is saying that I know what God’s will is for her life, in a manner of speaking, when in fact, I have no idea. I only occasionally know what’s best for me.

The older I get, the more intricate are the little threads that tie us together in friendships. The older I get, the less black and white I see, and life’s issues are many more shades of gray. The older I get, the more delicate are the nuances of motivation, of honesty–of truth.

I called my friend this morning to apologize for my lack of control, and she didn’t even know what I was talking about at first. My personalized rant went in one ear and out the other, which is the way friends ought to be with one another. Sometimes unwanted advice is good, sometimes it’s not. Take what you need and leave the rest on the table with the empty coffee cups.

But it was not in keeping with my spiritual principles, so I had to clean it up. I have to do that a lot. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I’m working on it.

Am I hard on myself? Yeah, probably, but it’s the only way I know how to be if I’m to make any progress at all.

Remember that commercial? “Life is messy. Clean it up.”

Words to live by.

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Broken Hearts

A broken heart is a broken dream.

It’s a good thing to dream, to visualize a goal, to make it so real in one’s imagination that when the longed-for event or item arrives, it is expected and handled with gratitude and care. It is a good thing to not let obstacles stand in the ways of our dreams, to push through, to fight the good fight, to soldier on, to… well, you know.

To give up on a dream is to admit defeat. Right?

What’s wrong with defeat? What’s wrong with taking the dream off the shelf and admitting that the timing is wrong or circumstances have changed, or the price is too high. Maybe giving up on a dream isn’t defeat at all, it’s realism.

Nevertheless, when a dream evaporates, it hurts. Plans have been made, allowances considered, schedules consulted. Most dreams are enormously successful in our fantasies, and those are the hardest to set aside. With our dreams intact, our futures are glorious. Without them, we’re back where we started, in whatever rut we’re in, swimming through our reality — the detritus of past dreams realized.

Disappointment is tough. But we’re only disappointed to the extent that we invested ourselves in the dream. And dreams are just that: dreams. we shout our orders to The Man Upstairs and then stand by, expecting them to be granted, visions of greatness swirling through our heads. And then, when it doesn’t materialize, we mourn.

We mourn!

That’s ridiculous. Dreams are a dime a dozen. If one doesn’t materialize, then get out and find yerself a new one. I’ve had devastating disappointments in my life and not one of them has hurt me to any measurable degree.

Remember that Garth Brooks song, “Thank God for unanswered prayers”?

So I’ll take today’s disappointment, chalk it up to bad timing and The Man Upstairs’ better plan for my time and energy and get on with trying to figure out what that might be.

I have better things to do today than mourn the loss of a fantasy.

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Filed under disappointment, dreams

My Spiritual Heritage

For school, I have to write an 18-20 page paper on my spiritual heritage. Here is the tongue-in-cheek title given as an example: “The Ways My Personality Style and The People and Experiences in My Life Have Been Instrumental in Shaping My Adult Personality and in Preparing Me to Use My Gifts for Pastoral and Spiritual Care of Other Persons.”

Holy crap.

Actually, everybody ought to do this. It’s quite a revelation.

I’m eleven pages into this project, and seeing things I’d never seen before about the people who have helped me along the way. I’m seeing the ordinary people in my life in a whole new light as I focus on how they have shaped my personality and prepared me to be the person I am today. Of course there are the parents, and the siblings, the occasional teacher who gave me a little extra encouragement. Everyone has those. Everyone has trauma, too, that pushes them one way or another, to choose one thing over another.

But in digging through the detritus of my history (most of it compost at this point, and not all that pleasant to rummage through), I see lots of little seeds that were scattered by mere passers-by. People whose faces I don’t remember, whose names escape me, but whose words of encouragement, advice, and wisdom remain.

The Johnny Appleseeds of my spiritual heritage.

They are legion.

And I am incredibly grateful. Those tiny comments in the aggregate have meant a great deal, have all worked to make me a good person today. Reviewing my life from this perspective makes me want to drop those little hints of encouragement to everybody.

We all want to make a difference in the world. I’m coming to believe that all we have to do is make a tiny bit of difference every day. Those who can make big differences all at once, are gifted in the extreme. But the little things add up.

It’s giving back, it’s paying forward, it’s bearing spiritual fruit.

It’s what we are here to do.

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Filed under college, Spirituality

Searching for a Personal Logo.

I was reading a book the other day and the author carried in his pocket a small token that he kept as his personal symbol. It reminded him of his faith, his mission, his purpose… in short, who he was in life. Or perhaps how he saw himself.

That got me to thinking. I used to have a personal logo, an anchor. The anchor is the universal symbol of hope, and as I was in the Naval Reserves at the time, it only seemed appropriate. I had it on my business cards, and thought briefly of having it tattooed on my ankle along with some of my shipmates. Glad we didn’t do that.

But then I changed business cards and didn’t carry the anchor through.

Today I see people wearing religious symbols on chains around their necks: crucifixes, stars of David, St. Christopher’s medals and what not. Theodore Sturgeon, my mentor in the early years of my writing career and the later years of his life, wore a Q with an arrow through it, which symbolized “Ask the next question.” To him, “What if?” was the only question a science fiction writer ever needed to ask.

Some people have a little icon that sits above their keyboard that provides them with focus, or purpose, or promise.

And I wonder: what is my personal logo today? With what do I identify myself so closely that I should carry a symbol? I have so many interests, so many roles.

And is identifying with one thing a little dangerous? If I wear a crucifix am I declaring to the world that I am a Christian and not open to the magnificence of other spiritual traditions? I eschew bumper stickers. Is declaring a personal logo akin to wearing an opinion?

I could dodge the issue by saying, “I’m a knitter,” and wear little knitting needle and yarn pins. Or symbols of a thousand and one things I enjoy. I carry in my purse a coin that I received on the anniversary of my sobriety, but that disease doesn’t define me, and that isn’t what the author who prompted this track of self-searching meant. He had only to put his fingers on that symbol in his pocket and he was reminded about who he was and what he was about.

The anchor doesn’t speak to me as it once did. I have a different view of hope today, but that is a blog for another time. At one time I thought the compass rose would make a good personal logo, but I’m not traveling the world as I once did.

So now I’m searching.

Do you have a personal logo?


Filed under Symbols


My parents are both in their mid-80s.

My father lives in Illinois. He is having difficulties.

My mother, long widowed from her second husband, lives in an active retirement community about five miles from me. She is having difficulties.

I have a patience problem.

I’m sure that by mid-life, everybody can easily complain about their parents. But when my father was in the hospital not long ago, I, who didn’t know the severity of his problem, began to assume the worst, considering his age.  Al and I lay in bed that night and reviewed my father’s parental report card. Only this time, instead of kvetching about him (as my siblings and I are prone to do), we discussed every subject where he was getting an A. It was an eye-opening experience. He got many A’s, and a few A+’s. How come my siblings and I don’t talk about those?

I did talk about those with my brother when he was here last month. It was a good, illuminating, emotional discussion. And then we discussed my mother’s A’s.

Since I’m geographically closer to my mother, she provides me with more opportunities to exercise patience (or my shameful lack thereof). The other night a friend sat me down and said: If you were to write a job description for the mother of a 13-year-old, what items would be on it? I gave him a list of about ten things. Then we did the same exercise, itemizing the job description for the mother of a 56-year-old woman. That had only about six things on it. Then he had me rate my mother’s performance on each item, on a scale of 1 to 5.

I was amazed at how this simple thing changed my view of my mother. Our family was in turmoil when I was thirteen, and yet she met all her obligations as well as she was able. She has no real obligations at this stage, except to be appreciative and a cheerleader, and she does those things very well, too.

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t just visualize my elderly parents from a different point of view without a little help.  But two simple exercises made all the difference for me, and I’m glad that happened before they die.

My mother is coming to dinner tonight, and I hope to have a few A’s on my report card when the evening is over.

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Filed under family

Is Evil a Treatable Disease?

Yesterday, I took a friend to her cancer treatment. I sat in the waiting room, reading, while she endured a painful and humiliating event. When she emerged, she was tearful and trembling.

As I waited, I read an ancillary textbook for my next class. In the book was an excerpt from M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie. In it, he postulates that evil is a disease, much like alcoholism. People who engage in both evil and alcoholism are participants, he says. Whether they are willing participants or not is the point of the matter.

As an alcoholic who has been clean and sober for many years, I can say that my participation in drinking was the result of a physical craving that was so severe that I would do anything, anything, to satisfy that craving, at the expense of all that was dear. Was I a willing participant? Yes, in a manner of speaking. We all have a need to feel like we’re the good guys, doing the good thing, even when we’re committing heinous acts. I, having no control over my drinking, embraced it as the cool thing to do. Until the time came when I could no longer do so, and shame took over. The only thing that keeps my alcoholism at bay today is a program of spiritual living.

But evil… now that’s a completely different thing. Isn’t it?

The Urantia Book defines evil as “a partial realization of, or maladjustment to, universe realities.” It goes on to say: “And of all forms of evil, none are more destructive of personality status than betrayal of trust and disloyalty to one’s confiding friends.” It is a “deficiency of wisdom.”

And so it would seem that evil is within our control, until we turn that corner and discover that we cannot stop. There was a moment at which I could not stop drinking. Does there come a moment when we cannot curtail our destructive (evil) actions?

Is evil addictive?

And if it is, will a program of spiritual living cure it, or halt its progression? Keep it in remission?

But what about my friend who emerged from the treatment room in the cancer center, shaken and traumatized by the error visited upon her body?

Evil may be an action; it may or may not be a willful action. But the darkness that we call cancer is certainly born of evil–a maladjustment to universe realities.

The treatment isn’t pretty, no matter what the circumstances. Today, cancer is a treatable disease, and my friend will endure whatever discomfort it takes to eradicate the darkness from her body, along with millions of others, recovering from cancer, recovering from alcoholism.

I hope that some day, other manifestations of evil will be similarly treated and eradicated.

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Filed under Cancer, Evil, Friends

Good Stress

There is an old adage: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” This is true in my experience. I have friends who are either retired or stay-at-homes, and if we have a project to do, they always give it to me to organize. I resent this at times, but then I realize that if it’s going to get done, it needs to be done by a busy person. 

I put the tasks on my calendar, prioritize them and just like all the other “to do” items on my desk, it will get done in due time.  If it has a priority.

The last time they gave me an outing to organize, the priority hadn’t yet risen to the surface of my schedule, and when the opportunity came up, spur-of-the-moment, I went without them. They were miffed, but that’s too bad. I’m busy!

I like being busy. I like the stress of deadlines and a full schedule of to-do’s. But I try to keep a careful balance. I tend to over-commit, and while I am almost always capable of meeting all my deadlines, my projects usually rely on others to do their part on time and on budget, too. When someone else fails to meet their commitment, then I get backed up and start missing my own deadlines and that makes me very grumpy indeed. So I want just enough stress to keep me productive, but not so much that I get grumpy. A fine line indeed.

I even write on my calendar “Do Nothing” when I need a day off. That way I’m sure to take a day to myself.

I use Time and Chaos on my computer to organize myself. This program is a godsend. You can download the basic version for free. I enter every aspect of my daily life into this program (and back it up religiously, needless to say). It keeps me from spinning my wheels, keeps me on target and on deadline and keeps me happy.

Kept in perspective, stress is good.

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Filed under Discipline, time

It’s that time of year

National Novel Writing Month begins November 1. Check it out. I know lots of people who have participated in this, and they all say it is an incredible grind, quite an adrenaline pump, and at the end… they have a terrible first draft.  But they do have a first draft, and that’s the point.

With very few exceptions, all first drafts are terrible, so if you need permission to pound out a terrible novel, you have it, and you’ll be in the company of thousands of others writing similarly horrible first drafts.

If you’re going to participate, and I hope you do, now is the time to get your ideas together, maybe even make your outline. The better prepared you are at 12:01 a.m. on November 1, the better your first draft will be.

Here’s the thing: If you participate, and you succeed (win!) by writing a verifiable 50,000 words between November 1 and 30, you will have learned a lot. You will have learned a lot about characters, plot, pacing, and your own limits.

Many people say that the first novel written is never the first one sold. I say the first novel written is usually so autobiographical that it is almost never sold at all, and that’s a good thing. So get it out of your system. Write your practice novel while in the company of over 70,000 others. Take advantage of everything that the fun, amazing website has to offer, and jump in with both feet. It’s only one month. What’s one month?

Do it.

And on December 1, let me know how it went.


Filed under Discipline, National Novel Writing Month, Writing