Thursday, June 30, 2011

Give Up the Funk

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm in a funk. Not a state of depression, just... just a funk. When my head gets too full of too many things - all of which I tend to internalize - I get funked. My thinking and creative processes get all gummed up, gunky, funky. Add to that the fact that it feels like October here in the Pacific NW today. Not that that's such a big deal to me. I like the cold weather, and I'm all for the rest of the world not having to share the necessity of Barb Black in a tank top. It's just that I feel like I possibly slept through a few months and it's left me feeling like I've somehow lost time, lost opportunity, lost... I don't know what. Gunky. Funky.

I've been walking by and/or sitting at this computer most of the morning, waiting for words to come, waiting for some grand revelation. I've sifted through prompts on other blogs. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I took a shower. I wandered around in my studio. I had breakfast. Still nothing. And yet, for some reason I still feel the need to create, to write, to do something. Why is it so difficult for me to say, "Hey, this is how you are today. Give it all a rest. Read a book. Watch stupid crap on TV like the rest of the world does." Why is it so difficult for me to say, "Look, you don't need to be creative today." Why is that? Gunky. Funky.

Maybe because I'm afraid? Maybe I fear that if I'm not standing here, waving whatever banner I've got in my hands, that I'll be forgotten? Or maybe I'm afraid that if I step away for a day I'll find that it's all been an illusion, that my creative abilities were just daydreams? Maybe it's just that annoying, rather misguided work ethic that was drummed into my head from the first moment I breathed air. You know the one: "only lazy people sit still." Gunky. Funky.

Oh, and trust me. I know exactly how to trick myself out of this feeling. The thing is, I'd really like to know why it's there, mostly because it's such an unusual event for me to feel like this. If I trick myself out of it, I can't properly dissect it. It's good to feel things, as long as we allow ourselves to really feel them, and as long as we use the feeling as a tool toward finding balance. Really, you can't have balance if half of the teeter-totter is missing, y'know? Gunky. Funky.

So this is a good thing. Well, a goodish thing. 'Sides... ain't nothin' like a decent excuse to turn up the volume on some good bluesy funk music. Like we need an excuse.

I gotta give up the funk. Gotta turn this muthah out. Gotta tear the roof off the suckah...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Halt! Who Goes There?

Welcome to another week of Writer's Challenge II. The folks at are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here. Pairings are randomly generated, but you never know, you just might be responsible for giving me my next prompt!

This week my prompt comes from Xander, who writes here. The prompt is, "The quadratic formula: friend or foe?"


*heavy sigh*

If I, in my very limited scope of knowledge, understand anything about the quadratic formula, it is that it's about balance. I could be all wrong, and if I am... la dee freekin' dah. Sure, I'm a math head. Sure, I came out of Algebra I with an A+, but that was back when I was a sophomore in high school. Which means, that was a very long time ago. Dirt was still relatively new. Dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Mankind had only recently learned to walk upright. So I'm just not going to worry about it a whole lot right now, m'kay?

Friend or foe, now that I can do. Oy vey, can I.

Here we go...

She whispers in my ear, pushing back a stray strand of hair with the gentle touch of a lover's fingers. She likes subtlety when it comes to praise. She knows I'll be embarrassed if she brags about me within earshot of anyone else. She says she likes me; she likes who I am; she likes my work; she likes the way I am and the quirkiness of the stuff that makes me laugh. She thinks my eyes are pretty. She takes me by the wrist and leads me, showing me beauty in the mundane. She delights in my wide-eyed wonder at things that most people take for granted. She paints bright color across my world. She loves; she's never petty; she embraces everything life has to offer and sends it all back out gift wrapped. Gift wrapped and tied in a shiny ribbon. She wants me to have everything I want, everything I've ever dreamed of - she always tells me that it's all right there at  my fingertips. She's my best friend.

The other one whispers too - the sound is like the incessant drone of a wasp hive, that noise that makes me feel like I need to swallow twice just to keep everything down. That seems ridiculous, because she's all about shoving it down, and she is brutally unkind about it. She's always negative. She likes to stick out her figurative foot and then laugh when I've tripped and skinned my knee. She's not evil, not really, she just doesn't see why I should be deserving of so much good. Maybe she doesn't see why I deserve any good at all. She likes to ridicule; she likes to tell me I'm fat and worthless; she likes to tell me I have nothing worthwhile to say. She tells me that nobody cares. She'd be happy if my world was gray, gray cinder block, gray benches, gray imagination. She tells me to just give up. She's my worst enemy.

Alluring, encouraging gypsy or repugnant, pessimistic hag. Friend or foe.

I'm either my own best friend, or my own worst enemy.

This is my dichotomy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Alive, Alive-O!

Yes, I am alive and well. I do apologize for my uncharacteristic absence. Steve's been working from home - which gives me limited online time. Plus, I'm trying to get the hovel in shape for the impending visit from my friend Jessica next week. I can't wait! I suppose the cleaning is worth it.

Have no fear, I will be back in full force soon. I've been pondering several post ideas. Sometimes a haitus is good... clears things out, gets rid of clutter. Much like my process in dealing with my studio closet.

In the meantime, get your wonderful reading selves offline and go do something fun.

B.... out.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Interview with the Energy Vampires

Yes, I took the day off from writing yesterday - mostly because Steve was working from home and needed the computer. However, it felt so good that I'm doing it again today and posting a "rerun." It's one of my favorites: An Interview with External Validation & Self Doubt.


(The Camera comes into focus on a somewhat dimly lit stage with three over-stuffed chairs. A rather ordinary woman sits in the middle chair. As the camera zooms in, it’s obvious that she is clearly focused.)

Barb: Welcome to the Church of the Wayward Gypsy. My name is Barb Black, and I’ll be your host today. Please, have a seat, grab a cup o’ bean, and get comfortable. Today, as previously promised, we’re foregoing the usual philosophical ramblings so that I can interview two of the most prolific entities in the known Universe, The Maligners of Morale, those guys you hate to love and love to hate… Señor Self Doubt and and Monsieur External Validation! Without further ado, let’s bring out Señor Self Doubt first…

(Camera and lights pan stage right as a small, rather bookish, but surly looking fellow enters the stage.)

Barb: Hello, Señor Self Doubt, and welcome!
Self Doubt: *slumps in chair* Uh… thank you. You can call me Sid… my middle initial is 'I', for Inflicted. That is, if you’re sure you want to do this at all. I mean, if you’re sure you’re up to it. You don’t look well… have you been getting enough sleep? Your clothes look a little tight… maybe you’re not eating right.
Barb: No, I’m fine, thanks Señor Sel… um… Sid.
Self Doubt: *heavy sigh* If you say so.

Barb: Sid, you seem to be able to be in several places at once - truly an admirable trait. How do you do it?
Self Doubt: It’s easy, really. It only appears that I’m in several places at once. But basically, I only make little visits throughout the day, plant my seeds, fertilize them well with BS, and then I’m off to squander my attention elsewhere. Does your hair always look like that?
Barb: *clears throat* I’ll ask the questions here. You say you plant some seeds. Expound on that, please.
Self Doubt: *scoffs* Right. Like you’d understand that. I didn’t say “some seeds,” I said “my seeds!” Seeds of Self Doubt. See, you people are so easy to manipulate that all I’ve got to do is plant one of my wiggly little nuggets, toss some BS in the mix, and you’ll incubate the thing until it grows completely out of proportion. Ta Da. I call ‘em Sid’s Little Tumor Babies, ‘cause they grow fast, take over everything, and all they do is eat, spew, poop, and whine.
Barb: I see. They don’t sleep?
Self Doubt: *rolls eyes* Never. You’ve got something stuck in your teeth.

Barb: Uh… Sid. Tell me where you grew up.
Self Doubt: *yawns* Oh, here and there. But mostly I spent my time in the Halls of Apathy. You’d think it would be boring there, but there’s so much mischief to get into. I had a blast.
Barb: Halls of Apathy?
Self Doubt: Duh. Huge place, lots of great hiding places, plenty of food. Been around pretty much since dirt was new.

Barb: Hmm. Who were some of your early influences?
Self Doubt: Oh, well… I’ve always looked up to my Dad, Cynicism. He’s an Expert. Goes around telling people that nothing’s ever gonna work, and most people actually buy it! Morons. My Mom, Pretention, is a great gal, but she’s kind of a show off. My Uncle Lan… uh, short for Pusillanimous, I think (his Dad was some old Greek guy… spent forever pushin’ a rock up a hill). Uncle Lan is a real kick in the pants.

Barb: Have any playmates as a kid? Have any friends?
Self Doubt: *snorts* Yeah, unlike you. My best buddy is your other guest. Me’n Val been runnin’ together since we was knee-high to foot fungus. Lotsa fun… he sets ‘em up, I knock ‘em down.
Barb: Well then, let’s bring him out. Please welcome Monsieur External Validation!

(Camera and lights pan stage left as a tall, dashing, self-assured looking man enters the stage.)

Barb: Hello, Monsieur External Validation. As always, it’s good to have you here.
External Validation: Hey, hey! Great to be here. Fantastic. Wow, you look great… beautiful eyes. Hey, call me Val.
Self Doubt: *shakes his head*
Barb: I… uh… thanks, Val.
External Validation: Sure, sure, sure. Really, so nice of you to have me here. Always thought you were a great gal.
Self Doubt: Geez… c’mon Val… you’re pandering.
External Validation: Of course, ya little imp. Go with what you’re good at, right?
Self Doubt: Ya make me sick, ya big Sugar Sack.

Barb: Okay guys. Okay. Val, unlike Sid who seems to be around all the time, you seem to show up only when you’re needed…
External Validation: Oh, well, don’t let that fool ya, Pretty Girl. I’m needed a lot, way more than it looks like, really. But I do sit back and monitor situations before I step in. Sid gets people feeling so lousy about themselves that they need a boost - hey, who doesn’t? That’s where I step in. I nudge other people to, truthfully or not, say nice things to that person. Then I give the person a good ego massage, get ‘em all relaxed and happy again, and send ‘em on their way.
Self Doubt: *chuckles* I can’t handly that sappy crappy craptastic crapola. I give it a few minutes and then, just like Jack Nicholson, I chop down the door and… “I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!”
External Validation: *good naturedly tousles Sid’s hair* You do keep me busy, ya little booger.
Self Doubt: Hey, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn‘t even have a job!
External Validation: True speech, my little friend. Little… hey… you getting’ taller? You look different. Better.
Self Doubt: BAH! That crap don’t work with me! Shovel it somewhere else.

Barb: Guys, guys, guys… Val, Sid mentioned earlier that you’re somewhat of a mentor to him…
Self Doubt: Hey! I never said… he ain’t no…
Barb: Shush. Val, who were some of the great influences in your life?
External Validation: Definitely my parents, Si (Self Importance) and Miss Guided… hi Mom and Dad! You’re my heroes! Love you, love you, love you!! Oh, and my Grandmother… wonderfully sweet lady… always handing out useless advice… making people feel all warm and fuzzy… dear old Granny Cloy. I miss her. My cousin, Perfidious… lots of fun, that guy.

Barb: Interesting. Alright guys. Lastly, I’m going to give you a phrase, and I want each of you to complete it. Val, Sid… I am worthy because…?
Self Doubt: Worthy? Who is really worthy of anything. Nothing you do really matters.
Barb: *raising an eyebrow* How about you, Val? I’m worthy because…?
External Validation: Easy, Gorgeous! Because everyone else says you are.
Barb: You’re both incorrect. I am worthy. End of sentence. The “because” does not signify.
Self Doubt: You’re so full of shi… hey, you cheated! *mutters in a whiny voice* “because does not signify“… pfft…
External Validation: As intelligent as you are, I disagree… “because” always signifies… who are you without the splendor of outside opinion? Who could exist that way?

Barb: I know who I am, and I am worthy. And, I’m most definitely done with the two of you. You can leave now.
External Validation: Sure, Dollface, we’ll wait for you in the wings while you wrap it up.
Barb: No, I mean leave for good. Go away. Hit the road. Be gone. Done listening to either of you... so done. Get out.
Self Doubt: You don’t have the strength to get rid of us.
Barb: Watch me. I know who I am. I am worthy. Bye guys.

(Camera and lights pan stage right as Señor Self Doubt and Monsieur External Validation exit hesitantly. Sid can be overheard whispering to Val, “Don‘t worry, Pal. Just yesterday I planted a whole bunch of my seeds… she ain‘t seen the last of us.” Val claps his hand on Sid’s shoulder and replies, “You da man!”)

(Camera and lights pan back to Barb as she sits, looking worn but satisfied, rubbing the back of her neck.)

Barb: Thank you all for joining us here today. Boy, I’m exhausted, but I‘ve never felt better. Oh, a word of caution… if you see those two, I recommend that you steer clear of them. Take care and be good to yourselves… happy wonderings.

(Camera and lights pan stage left as Barb exits purposefully.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scene From A Coffee Shop

Welcome to another week of Writer's Challenge II. The folks at are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here. Pairings are randomly generated, but you never know, you just might be responsible for giving me my next prompt!

This week my prompt comes from Evie, who writes here. The prompt is, "Go to a local watering hole or cafe, pick someone at random, watch them for 2 or 3 minutes and write about their "secret life." What you see isn't always what is under the surface..."

Here we go...


I watched him watching her. He didn't know. Neither did she.

She didn't know that he'd been leaving for work an hour early every day this month, driving out of his way, just to stop in and order coffee from her. He was impressed with her ready smile, her energy, her ability to not just remember her regular customers' coffee orders, but their names too. Every morning she greeted him cheerfully, "Good morning, Mark. Triple shot latté?" He always answered back, "Mornin', Kate. You got it!"

He really couldn't afford the morning coffee - he still had student loans to pay off, his new apartment had cost him more than he'd anticipated, and moving expenses had taken up most of his savings, not to mention the added expense of the extra gas needed for his daily drive to the coffee shop. The new job was good, but he could have done better. Still, he'd taken it on a long shot, and decided to make do on the limited budget. With any luck, it would pay off in the long run.

Pretending to yawn and stretch, he looked around the coffee shop, casually glancing at her. It wouldn't do to stare. He adjusted his tie, one of ten that he'd purchased for a dollar at Value Village, against his clean, pressed white shirt. He sipped at the latté and hit the refresh button on his email. He should have said something to her weeks ago, but having been shuttled around from one foster parent to another during his childhood had given him a profound fear of rejection. So, he just sat every morning, checking emails on his laptop, and stealing glances at her whenever he got the chance.

She was beautiful, with her almond-shaped hazel colored eyes, light freckles and long, thick chestnut hair. He watched her move with the grace of a ballerina as she lined up coffee cups, steamed milk, and poured espresso shots. He knew the sound of her voice now, heard her tease a co-worker about spilling an entire sack of beans on the floor, her light laughter like music.

He really needed to just talk to her. He needed to tell her what was on his mind. Really, what was the worst that could happen? Well, the worst was that she'd tell him to go to hell. The worst was that she'd tell him to never come here again. That would be crushingly painful. Then again, he'd dealt with that kind of heartache before and survived it, right? Right. He ran a hand through hair too short to need smoothing. With a sweaty palm he ironed out an invisible wrinkle on his khakis.

He decided he'd had enough. Enough torture. Enough wondering. Enough acting like some skeevy perv of a stalker. He closed the laptop and gulped down the last swallow of his latté. He stood and adjusted his tie one more time, then ran his fingers through his hair again. He slowly moved toward the counter, as though each step was carefully considered.

She was scribbling something on a notepad, but looked up as he approached. She smiled at him. "Hey, Mark! Don't tell me you're back for seconds... that stuff will have you dancing the jitterbug all day!"

He looked down at the empty cup in his hand, then back at her. "No.. uh... no. I just. It's just that... I was, I mean... I wanted to talk to you for a minute."

She stood straight, hands in her apron pockets. Clearly he wasn't the first guy to approach her, to think that her coffee making skills and quick smile were the answers to his dreams. She said, "Oh. Okay. Well then, shoot. What's on your mind?"

He cleared his throat, trying to buy time. "Well, Kate. I. Um...." He sighed in exasperation. "Oh hell... Kate... I think you're my little sister."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In the Summertime

First of all, I'm the featured writer today at Indie Ink! Huzzah!!!

Happy Summer Solstice!

Juliska néni, Me, Little Brother John

I remember that, as a child, summers seemed to stretch on forever. They were mostly sunny days that began with my mother throwing us out of the house. Mrs. Black was not one to allow a summer day to be wasted indoors. More often than not, we were kicked out with our swimsuits on and sent to the neighborhood swimming pool. We would play and splash and swim all day, wait through the endless "adult only swim" time-outs, and come home hours later, chlorine-scented, just in time for dinner.

It's a little ironic that my mother was afraid of water and never learned to swim, but that she loved that pool as much as we did. It saved her sanity during the months that she couldn't shuttle us off to school.

I have a favorite summer moment in time. I have no idea when it was, except that I was young. Maybe seven or eight at the most. My Dad had taken us up to the pool after dinner. This was a rarity, but it was a hot, sultry night by Michigan standards. We came back when it started to get dark. It was still hot and we sat at the picnic table in our swimsuits, damp towels wrapped around our waists. Mom gave us big, juicy slices of watermelon to eat. Dad finished his first and lit up a smoke. I remember watching his hands in the deepening twilight, impossibly big to my young eyes, one resting on the picnic table, the other bringing the cigarette back and forth to his mouth.

They were hands that could do anything. They made artwork appear, and changed light bulbs that were out of reach of anyone else, and they could fix things that were broken. And it wasn't just me in awe of my dad's hands. Many years later, at the very same picnic table, I sat with my dad and my nephew on a warm Spring day. My nephew was maybe four at the most. He was sitting next to my dad and gently tapping on Dad's wedding ring. He looked up and said, "Grampa... you got biiiig fwangers!" Dad roared with laughter.

When someone says the word summer, this is what comes back to me if I close my eyes, the scent of watermelon, chlorine, and cigarette smoke on warm, muggy air. The sound of crickets punctuated by my father exhaling smoke through his nose. It is the stillness of a moment of perfect childhood joy, a moment that was safe from everything else.

And I still love the scent of cigarette smoke on Summer air.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Slices of Randomness

You know, Mondays are still Mondays even if you don't roll any further out of bed than your own front door. There's still a sort of schedule to things, an impetus to get things done. I find it odd that after this long, my natural tendency is still to get up early on Monday mornings and start working.

The other night he told me he doesn't like having the sheets tucked into hospital corners on the bed. I laughed and said, "So what else have I been doing for two years that you don't like?" He shrugged and said, "That's about it. For now." The next evening, he was annoyed because the jars of Black Bean Paste and Hoisin Sauce look exactly the same. He tried to throw out the jar of Black Bean Paste (I stopped him in time) because he was angry at it for existing in our refrigerator. Still later he tried talking to me while he was gargling, which made him drool blue Listerine down his chin. We both laughed like hyenas. The man amuses me even when he's not trying to.

This morning, on a break from reading through graduation announcements from kids that I swear were just potty-trained last week and wedding announcements from kids who shouldn't be (by my calculations) past puberty yet, I looked in the mirror. I saw a woman who is quickly approaching 50, but who, in my esteemed opinion, doesn't look a day over 40. Except for the new gray hairs. They fascinate me, they really do. How did they get there, and when did they show up? I don't remember aging - it's not something you feel or notice as it creeps in. But I like the gray... I've lived a little, y'know?

Give me a break here, people. I'm functioning (or not) on about 2 hours of sleep. Simple case of up too late and up too early. That's why. *tap tap tap* Is this thing on?!

And that is all you get for today. No breathtaking creativity, no deep philosophical revelation. Just me. Rambling away, in between loads of laundry, on 2 hours of sleep and half a pot of coffee.

I have miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, June 17, 2011

It Doesn't Go Unnoticed

In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck and, of course, courage.
~Bill Cosby

The best fathers I know are the ones who worry that they'll fail their children. They're the best because they constantly try harder in an attempt to disprove their theory. They're never complacent when it comes to making sure their children are cared for and loved. And they never accept someone else telling them, "Hey, you're really doing a great job with your kids."

Because I've never been a parent, I am an expert on parenting. I'm kidding, people. However, the truth is, I'm something of an omniscient observer when it comes to relationships of all kinds. I pay attention to interaction and the subtleties therein.

So, here's the thing, dads:

  • Your kids probably won't truly appreciate your efforts until they are well into their twenties.
  • No relationship of any kind is perfect. So, just because your relationship with your kid(s) isn't perfect, that doesn't mean it's irrevocably flawed in some way.
  • Somebody is always going to find something you do annoying, and that's okay. We're all individuals, even your children, and we don't always see eye-to-eye.
  • You are loved, even if that love is unspoken.
  • You're admired. Just because a kid rolls his eyes, doesn't mean he doesn't see the bigger picture. Kids have to be cool, feel in control, and remain true to their species.
  • Eventually your kids will come back around to hugging you. In the meantime, it's okay to ask for a hug. Sometimes kids want and need to know that it matters to you.
  • Your kids will remember you teaching them how to ride a bike as well as your cheers of triumph when they finally "get it," and they will be forever grateful. The same holds true if you teach them to fish.
  • It's perfectly alright to swell with pride when your kid introduces you (granted, you may have to insist on said introduction), and says, "This is my Dad."
  • When you get tears in your eyes and your voice quavers a little as you speak of your childrens' accomplishments, you are, in that instant, the most beautiful man in the world.
  • Before you know it, your kids will be grown, intelligent, independent, interesting adults. You will scratch your bald and/or graying head and wonder how and when it all happened. Take some credit - it's because they have you for a dad.
Now, all of you... go read one of the most beautiful posts ever, written by my friend Rachel at Hands Free Mama (here).

Have a very Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Disce Aut Discede*

A tooter who tooted a flute
tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor
is it harder to toot,
or to tutor two tooters to toot?

We've all heard the saying before. Those who can, do and those who can't, teach. Well, I call bullshit. For one thing, it pisses me off because it implies that teachers don't really know what they're talking about. Plus, the best teachers I've known have been people who excel at what they do. The big difference is that they are willing to help others excel at what they do.

Keeping knowledge to oneself is like enjoying a huge meal while starving people stare through the windows.

I recall a day several years ago when I was working as a legal assistant. It was an unusually "slow" day and my boss came into my office with a stack of folders. "I'm going to teach you everything I know," she said as she dropped the folders onto my desk. I laughed and asked, "Why would you want to do that?" She replied, "Because I can't do it all myself, and the more you know, the better able you'll be to assist me." She spent the next couple of days teaching me. She didn't just tell me how to do it, she made up dummy files and made me do the work while she explained (my favorite way of learning). By the time I left that job, I did know everything she knew and was able to move on to a better position.

Yesterday I was perusing my friend Jessica's blog (here). She's been posting tutorials on art journaling. Jessica's work is flat out brilliant. She does this thing with colors... makes them so vivid and real that I want to eat her work. I want to devour those colors and make them part of me. My point is, Jessica's work is good enough that it could stand on its own anywhere. She could easily spend all her time just making stuff and ignoring the rest of the world as she dances with her muses. But she chooses to share. She does this because she wants the rest of the world to experience the freedom and joy in creating art in the same way that she experiences it.

I wish I was a better teacher. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to share my knowledge. I don't mind if people watch me. I don't mind if people ask questions. But to put together any kind of lesson plan, to limn out instructions, or worse, to stand in front of people and give a 'how to'? I get so scattered that you'd think I was on tranquilizers. I tend to start in the middle and forget beginning steps, lurch to the end and then start again until we're all so confused we can't decide whether to scratch our watches or wind our asses.

Education of any kind is such a tremendous gift to give someone. We grow by learning. Knowledge is power. It really is. I'm often accused of being intelligent, and I'll acknowledge that I do possess a bit of intelligence. However, when I think about how it feels, I don't feel intelligent. What I feel is a penchant for learning, a need to know things. Sitting in the dark is such a lonely experience.

One of the things that's so cool about my relationship with Steve is that our knowledge bases compliment each other. He's incredibly intelligent and adept at so many things. He's good with technical stuff and machinery and building and, y'know... manly man stuff. I have decent stocks of knowledge in all things culinary, art, literature, grammar, spelling.

I had to laugh the other day - Nascar was on the TV; I sat on the sofa half watching, half reading; Steve was at the computer. I squinted at one of the cars and asked him, "What's the roundish black thingy sticking off that other dealie?" He explained patiently. (Considering I can't even remember the names of the parts just four days later, it's obvious that when it comes to car stuff I have the mental capacity of a ferret on three espressos.) Moments later, he turned to me and asked, "How do you spell (I forget which word)...?" And I rattled off the spelling. I love that particular symbiosis in our relationship.

I've said it before... if I stop learning, I'll start dying. By the same token, if I can't in some way share what I've learned, that knowledge will fester and rot. Sharing knowledge is the way we keep it fresh. It's also a great way to learn because it leads to more questions. We are all teachers as equally as we are all students.

Those who can, teach as they ought to do.

Those who can't... should learn.

*By the way, Disce aut discede is Latin for learn or leave.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Said, "Doctor!"

Welcome to another week of Writer's Challenge II. The folks at are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here. Pairings are randomly generated, but you never know, you just might be responsible for giving me my next prompt!

This week my prompt comes from Tobie, who writes here. The prompt is,"Doctor or dentist?"

Ugh... argh... blurg... not my favorite prompt ever (sorry, Tobie!). I'm not sure just how creative I'll be, but here I go...


The choice is clear here... doctor. With apologies to dentists everywhere, you've just never earned any kind of reverence from me. But a doctor is what I'd want to be if I were to be something else. Specifically, I'd want to be a surgeon. Oogie bodily stuff doesn't faze me a bit. I can handle blood and guts without swooning. Added to that, I have a profound curiosity and admiration for the human body.

Think about it. These carcasses we're given to parade around in have some pretty impressive abilities and capabilities. We have blood and skin that regenerates, muscles that move and beat and even compensate if need be, bones that keep us upright and give us structure, organs that filter icky stuff, eyes, ears, noses, tongues, vocal chords. Our bodies are fallible, faulty vessels, yes. But awesome too.

Even when we're bereft of some of those things, we manage. For nine years I lived with a man who was a paraplegic and witnessed some truly amazing compensatory stuff. Sure, his legs looked like chicken drumsticks (his description) and were completely useless, but he had incredible, gravity defying upper body strength.

A few years back I had some extensive corrective surgery on my left leg. The surgery included taking the tissue on my calf all the way down to the muscle fascia, leaving it open for a week to granulate, then grafting over it with skin from my thigh. Painful, oh hell yes. Fascinating? Serious wow factor. A couple of days after the surgery, my doctor, her physicians assistant, and a nurse were in my room to change the dressing and check on progress. After they removed the dressing - which prompted me to make moaning and keening sounds that I never want to hear coming from myself again (it fucking hurt!) - they got close and surveyed the thing like they were looking for gold nuggets in a pan of muck.

I couldn't help myself. I had to look too. I saw the lower half of my left leg looking like something that should be hanging in a meat locker being wailed on by some broke Philadelphian boxing protégé. My doc pointed out various points of interest to the other two - nobody noticed that I was looking. She made note of a particularly lumpy looking bit and said, "That's the calf muscle." Really?! I was looking at the inner workings of my own calf muscle?! She said, "Flex your foot, Barb." I did and watched the raw muscle move. In chorus, the assistant, the nurse, and I all said, "Wowwww..." That's when they looked up to see me completely rapt by the same thing they were looking at - my filleted leg. I could tell they were kind of impressed that I was participating. That was when it dawned on me that I wasn't watching the Discovery Channel, but my own leg. That was when I lay back down and felt a little swoony after all, saying, "Alright... unless you want to pay me, show's over. I need meds!" But I can't lie. I'm really glad I looked.

A week later the same doctor took a big swatch of skin from my upper thigh and grafted it onto that slab of meat. Three months later I had a leg that was completely healed over. There's a lot of nerve damage - it's numb mostly and painful sometimes and gimpy all the time. Still, I can walk on it, and that blows my mind.

When John was in the depths of his illness, I changed catheters, emptied bags of fetid urine, swabbed bedsores, cleaned up shitty puke... whatever needed to be done. None of it bothered me a bit. The hospice nurses were surprised that I was so willing and capable in my care for him. However, as I saw it, stuff needed to be done and I simply did it. The morning after he died, I received a phone call from his oncologist. I remember his words ringing like a bell through the fog of my grief. He said, "I wish all my patients had someone to care for them the way you cared for John."

I would have been a good doctor. I would have been a good doctor because I would have loved being a doctor.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm Too Old For That

Today I'm joining the fun over at Mama's Losin' It. She gives six prompts to choose from each week. I chose this one: "We're too old to be getting in trouble...aren't we? Write about a time you were an adult."

Easy. This is a story I've told not just a few times in the past couple of years. It's a classic, especially in my family. Not only is it irreverently funny, but it captures so well the dynamics of mi familia loca.

It's no secret that my mother and I are about as opposing in our worldly views as... well... as a staunchly unyielding catholic and a free-range artist can be. We love each other dearly, but we will never see eye to eye on most subjects. Added to that, Mom is also the antithesis of me in the way she conducts herself. She is very proper and ladylike (yes, you may read 'uptight' into that, if you please), whereas I take a bull in the china shop approach to... damned near everything.

That being said, here's a story from two years ago - the story of how I got in deep shit with my mother. At Disney World, no less.

Here's how it all went down... Half of my family had met up at Disney World for the Disney marathon. My Mom, Aunt Irene, sister (Nancy), brother-in-law (Mikael), and my nephew (Jason) had traveled from Michigan and Ohio, and I traveled from Washington to meet up with my other nephew (Homer), his wife (Athena), and children. Nancy, Mikael, Homer, and Athena were all going to run in one (or more) of the Disney marathons. Me? I'm not a runner. I'm a watcher.

After the half marathon, we all went to lunch at one of Disney's fine dining establishments. The runners were discussing the marathon, their running abilities, how it felt to accomplish their feats. The subject came up about how intensely annoying it was for them to be two miles from the finish and have spectators yell, "You're almost there!" Totally understandable. They've still got two miles to go. Two miles isn't almost there! Sure, it seems lightweight up against 13 miles or 26, but having already run 11 or 24 miles, two more miles can be a bit daunting, the body being at a point of you-are-shitting-me-sit-down-already! Hell, I had merely walked at least two miles just trying to follow them from one check point to another, and I was more than ready for the pool and a beer.

Athena said she wanted to get a banner made with some statement on it like, "Do not tell me I'm almost there!" I said, "Heck, why bother hauling something like that around on your run? That's why God gave you middle fingers!" Cue uproarious laughter from the crew, quickly followed by dead silence as my mother cleared her throat. A simple throat clearing might not seem like much to you, but when my mother does it, it's like hearing someone lock n' load a gun in the dead of night. Inattention is not an option. I turned my head... Mom was giving me that bloody-dagger-about-to-puncture-both-lungs look as she said sternly, "Barbara Ann!" Ohgodohgodohgod... I got The Full Name Treatment. This was a sure sign that I was in big bad trouble.

You know those moments in movies when everything suddenly goes quiet and moves in slow motion? This was one of those moments.

I could hear chairs scrape across the floor as Homer and Jason, on either side of me, tried to scoot away and out of the range of fire. Athena suddenly had to wipe some recalcitrant sticky stuff off of one of the kids. Mikael paid inordinate attention to the food on his plate and discovered a renewed love for bread sticks. Nancy hid her face behind her hand, one eye peering out to watch the train wreck. I caught Aunt Irene's eye, and let me tell you, it was a saving grace to see the barely held in check smirk on her face.

Then it all came back in a rush of noise as Mom lit into me with a diatribe on vulgarity and obscenity and inappropriate behavior of all kinds and... *sigh* Everyone else at the table stayed quiet in a thank-the-gods-it's-not-me-this-time way. The jerks. They bailed on me! Left me under the bus without so much as a backward glance. I apologized to Mom for offending her sensibilities, which took a lot out of my stubborn ass, but I did, I apologized. It mattered not. I still got the red-headed step-child treatment for the rest of the day.

As we were leaving the restaurant, Aunt Irene leaned in close to me and said in a low voice, "Well... I thought it was funny."

Later that evening I sat at the pool with my sister, her husband, and my two nephews. The air was comfortably balmy. The drinks were tasty. One of my nephews bought me a drink, saying, "I thought for sure you were a dead woman." My brother-in-law said, "You were very brave." My sister said, "I was just glad it wasn't me for once!" The other nephew said, "It was pretty damned funny."

I felt vindicated. More than that, I felt masterful. They may have managed a marathon, but that's just running. I, on the other hand, had run headlong at the firing squad and lived to tell about it.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Love You Beautiful

The note said, "I love you beautiful."

At first I smiled at the missing grammar as much as I smiled at the thoughtfulness. I can't help it. I'm just that way. I knew he meant, "I love you, Beautiful."

But as I held onto the piece of paper in one hand, and my mug of coffee in the other, I thought that maybe it had been written exactly as it is, as it feels.

He loves me beautiful. His love turns my life into a thing of true beauty. His love lends a sparkle to my eyes that others pick up on. His love gives me a sense of peace and security - not just within my environment, but within myself - and that kind of grounding reflects outward. His love puts a confidence in my voice (both literally and figuratively) that wasn't there before I met him. His love makes me realize that it's not what's on the outside, but what presents outwardly that counts most. His love brings me to a place within myself where I can shine. His love gives me freedom to be exactly who I need to be...

... and that person is beautiful, because of that love, because of that freedom. He loves me beautiful.

And this isn't just some sappy post for you to say, "oh, isn't that precious." It's far greater than that. It's glorious. It is awesome in the truest sense of the word. It has made tangible for me that which I've long believed - that love is the greatest power we possess.

Love someone beautiful today. Let yourself be loved beautiful.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bag of Tricks

Hi Folks... It's rerun Friday, as I'm trying to keep up with artistic supply and demand (yay!). The following is a post I wrote back in December 2008. I thought it needed a little air and sunlight...

Without Art we are but monkeys with car keys.

Last night an acquaintance said, "Anyone can draw. Anyone can be artistic." I nodded in vehement agreement. It's the same thing I've often said about music or writing. Anyone can do it. It may take a bit of mental reprogramming, a tilt in perspective, but it's out there for anyone to claim. No, not everyone who picks up a purple crayon is going to be the next Degas; not everyone who plucks an old guitar string is going to be Clapton; and not everyone who puts pen to paper is going to be Shakespeare. C'est la vie, so flippin' what. Real artists do it because it feels good.

This morning (on the radio), as if following the thread of conversation from last night, the DJ said something to the effect of, "I've always thought that everyone should have something in their campfire basket; something they can pull out when things get too boring or serious... a magic trick, a guitar, a story... " Amen to that.

I feel fortunate. I've often said that I've rarely ever been bored because I know how to entertain myself. With any luck, I know how to entertain others as well (the paradox here is that I think myself a boring person because I'm such an introvert). I can shuffle and deal a deck of cards, make music, act, draw, paint, and I can even pull off telling a joke with some small measure of comedic timing.

Some of the best times in my life have been time spent with people who tell a good story... nothing but the sound of their voice and the scene they were painting with it. I love that. It's no great surprise that the men I've been highly attracted to, and even fallen for, are/were great story tellers. It's a trait for which I have huge admiration. Take me down your path... please!

A little over a year ago I went camping in California with Timothy and some friends. We were having a great time around the campfire. I was totally relaxed and feeling fairly uninhibited. What followed (to my complete amazement) was me basically doing a half hour long standup comedy routine ('cept I was sittin' on a log). I was in rare form - the jokes just started flowing and my timing was flawless - I don't think I could have stopped if I'd wanted to. Of course, it helped that I had a very cool audience which was under the influence of tequila, which was flowing like... uh... tequila. Point is, it just felt so good.

Years ago before TV and radio were invented, this is how people lived. Almost everyone had some kind of entertaining skill. The candles and fires were lit against the dark, maybe the jug was passed, the fiddle was hauled out, the yarn was spun (literally and figuratively), songs were sung, poems recited. My guess is that no one ever rolled their eyes and said, "I'm bored." I've been without TV reception for over three months now and I can honestly say that I don't miss it. Sure, I still have my DVD collection, which offsets the occasional need for boxed entertainment. But, I've created, sung, played, and read more than I have in years. And I listen to the quiet - there's volume in it.

What's in your campfire basket? You've got something - turn off the TV and turn off the lights - find out what it is. Get lost in the glow of a mood, rather than the glow from a box. You'll be amazed at the places you'll go.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Make A Difference

Fast post because today is a busy day.

One of my favorite things to do is to reach out and make a difference, for the better, in a stranger's life.

It's even more wonderful when that stranger becomes a friend.

I love to make a difference, because I believe that it's what we're here for - to make a difference in each other's lives.

Who are you going to reach out to today?

What difference will you make?

Because when you make a difference in another's life, you make a difference in your own.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Erika's Story

Welcome to another week of Writer's Challenge II. The folks at are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here. Pairings are randomly generated, but you never know, you just might be responsible for giving me my next prompt!

This week my prompt comes from Tobie, who writes here. The prompt is, "Sitting in a restaurant bar, waiting."

Here we go...


Erika stirred her drink with the little plastic straw, mesmerized by the light playing on the ice cubes. There had been a time when she didn't touch alcohol. Those were her long ago dancing days, back when she thought she had a shot at being the next Martha Graham. She still had the moves, well, sort of. At least she still put herself through the moves every day. It was her daily workout routine, first the stretching, then the five foot positions, followed by a series of pliés, relevés, jetés and whatever else took her feet by surprise as Wagner drowned out the noises in her head. Dancing was the only time that she felt complete freedom, the only time that she felt like she owned herself. Everything else was a simple matter of getting through the day with some kind of grace.

Erika sighed and took a sip of her drink. She grimaced. There was something about a whiskey sour that she both loved and loathed, and that was what kept her coming back to them. She caught a glimpse of herself amid the bottles that lined the mirror behind the bar. Even from here, even with the low lighting, she could see the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and the edges of her mouth. Even from here she could see the resignation in her eyes and she hated it. She would never forgive her life for turning out the way it had, would never forgive herself her mistakes, would never forgive the one night that changed everything.

Twenty four years ago she had been the shining star of her dance troupe. Whispers on the street said that she was the one to watch. The ballet world was her oyster and she'd been poised in a perfect arabesque on its shimmering pearl. Then her mother had cajoled her into going to the senior class beach party. Erika hadn't wanted to go, she barely knew her classmates, but her mother had all but insisted. At some point in the evening around the bonfire, the beer was brought out. Two beers into it and feeling giddy and still mildly resentful toward her mother, she took the joint that was passed to her, choked on the first toke, and then took a second and held it in before she passed it along. She stood up from the log she'd been sitting on and wandered off down the beach. Lost in the whispering sound of the waves she had no idea how far she'd walked or how long she'd been gone. In fact, she'd almost forgotten about the gathering around the bonfire until she heard someone running up behind her. She turned to see Rob Gesko, one of the handsomest boys in her class.

"Hey," he said. "We were starting to worry that you'd gotten lost."

In return, Erika laughed a little shyly, trying not to notice how white his teeth were against the dark night, trying not to notice how the wind blew his curls around his head against the starlit sky.

"So... uh... you're a dancer, huh?"

"I am!" She declared with great inebriated confidence. She arced her right arm over her head, crossed her belly with the left, and attempted a pirouette that her drunken feet didn't quite remember. She stumbled slightly and Rob caught her in his arms.

Nine months later she'd given birth to Bobby. Nine months later she'd become Mrs. Robert Gesko. Nine months later her life as a promising ballet dancer had turned into a series of mistakes, regrets, and resentments. The guilt at resenting a helpless baby, her baby, had made her devote herself entirely to her son. Rob had almost immediately revealed himself to be the shithead version of dashing good looks, belittling her at any chance he got when he wasn't busy chasing other women. After ten years the trappings of an emotionally abusive marriage had ended in acrimony on both sides. Rob had taken everything and moved to Georgia with some bimbo who seemed to think the sun rose and set on his beer belly, leaving Erika to raise Bobby on her own. Erika had had to fight him for the child support payments that never came on time. Erika had had to soothe a son who'd been abandoned by his father. Everything had been, and still was, up to her. Early on, after the divorce, she had scrimped and saved her way through a grocery store job that was barely above minimum wage, and after two years, had opened a dance studio.

Erika sighed and signaled the bartender for a refill. The studio was on the third floor of a long defunct cannery in Everett. She had worked hard to make it the mild success that it was, all but begging children with dreams to come in and dance. She had regained some sense of her own definition, her own self-worth in working with them. She would hide smiles as she watched their awkward, gangly limbs try to mimic her own graceful moves. And always, she would save an hour for herself, an hour to be alone, an hour to dance. Then reality would set in when she went home and inevitably found Bobby, now twenty three years old, flopped on the sofa, surrounded by a litter of Mountain Dew cans and junk food wrappers, frantically clicking away at the controls for some over the top violent video game. She'd set her teeth in a false smile as he grunted a near hello in acknowledgment of her presence. She'd feel the resentment kick in again and hate herself for it. To compensate she would do his laundry and make him one of his favorites for dinner.

Her sister Ann had no idea how lucky she was - no children, no trail of wretched relationships, just the freedom to do what she wanted, travel wherever and whenever she felt like, take the time to write two fairly successful novels, and now she seemed to have landed in some fairytale romance. That last was the reason for them meeting up for dinner tonight. Erika wanted to hear all the details, wanted in on some vicarious pleasure. Speaking of which, where the hell was Ann anyway? Erika looked at her watch. Ah well, she was only fifteen minutes late and Rte. 2 could be a real bitch to navigate sometimes.

Uncharacteristically, Erika asked the bartender for a third drink and a basket of chips and salsa. "Health regime be damned tonight," she thought. She was walking home anyway, so a little tipsy wouldn't matter a bit. Ironically, she didn't resent Ann for her freedom and success, not one bit. Ann was the one person in her life that she felt she could rely upon, the one person in her life who was always there when she needed an ear or a shoulder, the one person who would shoot straight with her no matter what. She was, in fact, proud of her sister for laying such solid claim to the life she wanted. Erika bit down on a chip as her cell phone buzzed and tried to wriggle away. She grabbed it and flipped it open.


"Hey, sis. I'm stuck on 2, but it's starting to move, so I should be there soon."

"Oh, good. I kind of figured that might be what had happened."

"Yeah, I would have been there in plenty of time, but I made the mistake of stopping at Ma's to pick up the clothing donation. You know how she can suck me into a pointless conversation about the unambitious life of a novelist." Erika heard her sister's sigh of exasperation.

"Oh, don't I know," Erika replied with a laugh. "Try being a dance instructor and then you can come and bitch to me!"

Ann laughed in return. "Touché. I'll see you in a few."

"Okay. I'm just sitting in the restaurant bar, waiting."


To read more about Ann, Erika, their mother and others - all of which are exerpts from my upcoming novel - click here, here, and here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Busy B

I have a very busy next few weeks coming up. You'll pardon me if some of my posts are a little bit brief. Although there's no telling with me... I get off on a tangent and it's anybody's bet. As I looked at my growing To Do list I had a moment of panic. Followed by a moment of giddiness. Careful what you wish for, it will come your way - whether you're ready or not.

I'm facing a full, and I do mean full, month of making cards, plus I have an art piece to get done within the next couple of weeks, plus I have some necessary sewing. Somehow I need to fit writing and housework into all that. Three guesses which of those things will take a back burner. Plus, I need to reorganize my studio a bit because I'm getting rid of a piece of furniture.

I have an old dresser in my studio that I've been using as a combination of storage and cutting table. But it really doesn't work within the space. I need to get rid of it. I've dreaded that decision as it really is a beautiful old dresser with cedar lined drawers. And it was given to me for free. But, it's just a thing and sometimes things need to get gone.

Evolution is necessary for anything that wants to grow.

Weed a garden and suddenly plants that were having to share sunlight and nutrients seem to jump right out of the ground. So it is with anything in our lives. We have to create space for the light to get through. We have to give a thing adequate nourishment. Yes, it would likely grow anyway, but not at a very fast rate, and not at a rate that would spur real production.

So, I need to get busy. I need to weed out and push everything else toward growth.

In the meantime, you could make it a little easier for me. You could go to the "Challenge Me" tab on my blog and leave a suggestion of something for me to write about. A lot of the time, the most difficult part of writing a daily post is coming up with a topic. So, a little help from my friends, please? Thank you.

Now, where did I leave that mug o' bean....

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fun With a Side of Freedom

Somewhere along the way we forgot how. As children we knew how. We didn't even question it. We were all about fun. We were all about having fun. But somehow, in our rush to and through adulthood, we lost that ability. We got stuck in a minefield of seriousness. Sure, we know how to joke around. We know how to laugh. But few are completely at ease with it. We make apologies when we get down with the silliness.

Tragic. How did that happen? More importantly, how do we get it back?

Watch a group of kids. They laugh, play, dance, sing, make up outlandish stories and explore the far reaches of humor. All unabashedly. They don't stop and ask, "Too far? Too much? Is this going to bother or offend someone?" They just giggle and keep going.

That's freedom of the highest degree.

And I realized this weekend just how much of that kind of freedom I have in my life. Sure, accuse me of being a Pollyanna, just try. You know I can and will dive into the deeper issues without so much as a snorkel. And don't say I'm lucky. I don't buy the whole luck bucket. We make our own luck through our actions and our attitudes. To say I'm lucky is to ignore all of the impossibly difficult things that have happened in my life. To say I'm lucky is to disregard all the incredibly hard work I've done on my life. Fortunate, yes... but lucky? Fuck that.


This weekend I realized just how much freedom I have. I was talking to a friend about making cards and mentioned that it's like being in kindergarten every day. I get to color and cut and glue and play. The thing is, I've pushed myself and my life in that direction. I've taken steps to allow that in my life. I've made sacrifices in order to have that freedom.

Freedom doesn't just happen. You have to work for it.

It's no secret that I'm head-over-feet crazy in love with my mate. One of the reasons for that is that we laugh together. Note the subtlety there. It's not that he makes me laugh, it's that we laugh together. We know how to have fun with each other. I can hear it now, "You're so lucky," "I never meet guys/girls like that," "My mate just isn't/doesn't/won't..." You know what I say to those naysayers? Fuck that too.

For starters, where are you looking for your Laughin' Pal? In a bar? A laundromat? The produce section? Or maybe you're not actively looking (and weeding out the ass hats in the process). Maybe you're just hoping someone will land oh, so perfectly in your lap. Doesn't happen that way. You have to be an active participant with a positive attitude that the right person will be there. Don't settle for availability, hold out for quality. Because when the sex isn't there, the joy had better be.

For those of you already in a relationship who are rolling your eyes and saying, "Yeah right..." If you can't laugh together, you've got issues that you need to work on. And if you can't come back to the laughter, if you can't re-establish it, then it's time to cut the ties. Nope, no buts. Trust me on this, if laughter isn't there, nothing is there.

I searched for my mate and I went through heartache along the way. We both work hard to make it a worthy relationship in a lot of different ways. But what it comes down to is that we love each other because we laugh together.

Really. Once you've rolled around naked and giggling with someone, what's the point of hiding anything? Yeah. See? Freedom.

When was the last time you had fun? If you can pin-point it, then this post is for you.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Even The Losers

I don't consider myself to be a loser by any stretch. However, yesterday I was a loser and I didn't mind a bit. I've been waiting and waiting to see if I was going to make it onto the new design team at Third Coast Rubber Stamps. Yesterday the list came out and I wasn't on it. "Bummer," I thought. "But, oh well." I know I'm not the only talent out there in the world. No big deal. I lost. Way it goes.

It put me in mind of the line from the movie Elizabethtown (not that I at all compare losing out on a design team slot to a 9 billion dollar shoe fiasco - hardly), "So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you're still smiling."

I blew off the rejection faster than you can say rubber stamps.

I decided I had plenty of other stuff to occupy my time. A friend turned me on to a site that helps women who have cancer, The Lydia Project. So, I decided to make some cards to donate to them. Another friend let me know that she's hosting a benefit for someone in her circle who was just diagnosed with cancer. So, I offered to make cards for her benefit gig as well.

Then the day picked up speed and I got two new card orders and a commission for a painting-collage piece.

Losing was turning out to be pretty damned good!

Then an old friend emailed me and offered me airfare to come for a visit.

Losing was turning out to be fucking awesome!

But... wait for it...

Then I got an email from the owner of TCRS, saying that she had several positions to fill for Guest Designers. Would I be interested in that? Would I?! Oh, hell yes!

I love losing. You betchya.

I am one happy, busy loser.

Here's the deal... I think that when you don't get bent out of shape because something didn't turn out exactly as you planned it, the universe rewards you for that. I think when you don't sit around moping and pouting, and simply move along to the next indicated thing, you get bonus points on your Karma Awards Card.

Because no matter how miserably you might fail, no matter how big you lose, there is always, always the next indicated thing to do.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Let It All Hang Out

I've been having some good conversation lately with my Tasmanian friend Kit (who posts here). We kind of suspected that we were kindred spirits from the start, but discovered much more commonality after I wrote my post, M is for Mourning (here).

Kit and I have had quite a few messages back and forth over that one. But one thing in particular that she said really stood out in my mind. It was, "People seem to want to sanitize the 'unseemly' emotions... How stupid is that?" I hollered at the computer screen, as if she'd be able to hear me all the way over-under there in Tasmania, "That's it!" Yeah, just like Charlie Brown when Linus lays it on the line.

We do sanitize our emotions and in so doing, our emotional responses. It's a behavior that we learned somewhere along the way, and for the most part it's a detriment. It makes us callous and callused - not only do we disregard and/or gloss over what others are feeling, but we stuff our own feelings down until they become a hard impregnable nugget. What a shame.

We have our emotions for a reason, just the same as we experience physical sensations for a reason. Emotions are triggers that tell us what's good and what's not, what's too far, what's just right, what's delightful, what's unbearable. Squelch that and you end up with all the sensibility and sensitivity of a popsicle. We need to allow ourselves to feel. We need to allow others to feel.

Now, I'm not saying that we all need to be running around, flying off the handle and either laughing hysterically or crying a river. I'm saying that we need to be aware of our emotions and emotional reactions. We need to accept that others will react to various stimuli differently than we might. Again, just like physical sensation, we each feel things differently on a mental and emotional level. Some people love being tickled, others find it uncomfortable and nearly excruciating. Some people can whack their shin on a coffee table and keep going like it was nothing, others need to sit down and have a moment of sorrow and pity for the entire limb.

Emotions are much the same. What makes me laugh like a loon might leave you yawning and searching for the nearest pillow. What brings tears to your eyes might annoy me by its very sappiness. What hurts some folks' feelings, others will easily brush off like pesky bread crumbs on a lapel.

We're all different. Surprise.

Stress is a huge factor in the physical ailments that plague mankind today. We're over worked, overly committed, and overwhelmed. I'm convinced that a lot of that stress comes from us holding it all in, waiting for an "appropriate opportunity" (read: time away from the eyes and ears of others) to let it out. There are two problems with that. One is that we rarely have, much less take, that kind of time. The other is that we need to bounce our emotions off of other people. We need to know that what we're feeling is okay, that we're not opening the door to a rubber room. We need to be able to talk about it. And we need to be able to hear about it. We need to allow others to voice their emotions without judgment, without immediately putting a cap on it and shutting it down.

So, can we all just agree to lend ourselves and others a bit of latitude when it comes to experiencing emotion? And for the love of cheese in a can... can we all just agree to let it out every now and then?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You Had Me At "Hi!"

Welcome to another week of Writer's Challenge II. The folks at are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here. Pairings are randomly generated, but you never know, you just might be responsible for giving me my next prompt!

This week my prompt comes from Dili, who writes here. The prompt is, "Hi!"

Ahhhh... all the wide open space in that simple utterance. *rubs hands together greedily*

Here we go...


Mitch was more nervous than he could ever remember being, and he found that irritating. He paced back and forth outside the restaurant, mentally belittling himself for opening his big mouth. Would it have been so wrong to just thank her and go on his merry way? Or even just an offer of a cup of coffee somewhere? But this? A dinner date? Stupid, stupid, stupid big damned mouth. He wanted to know her better - she was gorgeous and obviously intelligent. But this was his first date in almost five years, the first time he'd even asked someone out since he and Tash had met, way back when Regan had been in office. Tash. Tash, whom he had loved. Tash, who had slipped away one evil cancerous cell at a time. "Ah, Tash... look what you've left me too. I'm no good at this, baby." Mitch sighed and opened and closed his fists. She would be completely bored with him within minutes. Of that he was certain. Even so, here he was.

If this ended up as anything. "Yeah, right," he thought. If this ended up as anything, what an auspicious and strange beginning it had. There's one for the papers, one to throw the interviewer whenever his fifteen minutes of fame found him. "How'd you two meet?" "We met over a dead dog." Jesus. Mitch shook his head as if that would help clear it.

That damned dog. That would haunt him for a long time to come. Mitch had a few days off between construction gigs, so he decided to indulge in one of his passions. He'd made the twelve mile trip into town, enjoying the shafts of sun peeking through the trees, whistling along to an old Bruce Hornsby cd that he'd cranked to earsplitting volume. Every now and then he'd belt out an all too familiar line of song. "That's just the way it go-ooo-oh-ooo-oh-ooo-ohhhs..." He loved the woods, where no one could hear him howl like a demented American Idol wannabe. Once he got to town, Mitch picked up the obligatory bottle of Jack, then stopped at the grocery store for appropriate snacks - there wasn't going to be any cooking going on for the next few days - he needed cheese, salami, crackers, apples, pears, and some good coffee beans. He tossed in a couple of boxes of granola bars and fig newtons for good measure. Libation and nutrition in order, Mitch's next stop was the art supply store. There he spent more than an hour and an obscene amount of money buying canvases, brushes and paint. "What the hell," he thought. "It's not like I ever go away on vacation, and it's not like I have a drug habit to support." He much preferred to spend the time alone painting, with only the company of the screaming vocals and stellar guitar skills of Messieurs Plant and Page.

Mitch pushed the truck's accelerator a bit as he made his way up the winding hill that lead him back into the woods. His mind was whirling with possibilities that sprang from his new art supplies. He smiled and hummed along to the Bruce Springsteen cd that now graced the truck's stereo system. He rounded another curve and almost didn't see the dark lump at the edge of the road, but something drew his eyes. He slowed the truck, pulled over, and jumped out. The lump was a dog, what had recently been a beautiful black lab. From the glazed eyes to the limp way that the dog's tongue was hanging out, Mitch knew that the dog was gone. He crouched and picked up one of the dog's forepaws, holding it gently in his hand, noting the matted, bloody patch of fur between the dog's ribs and hind quarters. He felt a lump in his throat and a flurry of anger. What kind of heartless fucking bastard would hit a dog and just leave it there for dead? This was someone's pet, someone would soon be missing the beast. Someone's day just got trashed. He felt a tear slide down his cheek and didn't even notice the jeep that was slowing on the other side of the road, didn't even hear the footsteps approaching.

"Hey," the female voice startled him. "Hey... Hey, Mister... are you alri... oh god... is that your dog?"

Mitch let go of the dog's paw, stood and turned. He quickly wiped his face on his shirt sleeve. "No. I just came around the corner and saw him. What kind of douchebag leaves someone's pet like this? I... I just..."

The woman pushed a strand of thick auburn hair from her face and Mitch noticed that she, too, was fighting tears. "I can't imagine. I just can't. He's got an ID tag." They both crouched as Mitch lifted the tag and checked the address on it.

"That's just a half a mile from here," he said. "I suppose I'd better take him and knock on their door with the bad news."

"I could go with you...?" she offered. "I... you shouldn't... I mean..." The woman let out a heavy sigh. "I'm Ann. I'd be happy to keep you company and lend some support." She stuck out her hand rather awkwardly and Mitch shook it, feeling pretty awkward himself.

"You don't need to do that. It's nice of you to offer, but you don't need to."

"I know I don't need to. I want to." Mitch didn't miss the stubborn little frown on her face and knew that she was the type of woman with whom a guy would try very hard not to argue, because he'd lose every time. Ann saw his hesitation as acceptance and continued, "Look, I have an old army blanket in the jeep. Let me grab that and we can wrap him up in it." She walked away before he could protest.

"That was how it started, children," he thought as he paced in front of the restaurant. "A dead dog put the whole thing in motion. And I had to open my stupid, stupid, stupid big damned mouth. Instead of just thanking her, I asked her out. Shit fire to save matches." Mitch nervously scrubbed at his face with a shaky hand. Being a punctuality junkie had its price, as he'd arrived half an hour early. He would love to have a drink at the bar, but didn't want her to show up and get the impression that he needed a drink to have a good time. So, he chose to pace in front of the joint. Shit, did that make him look too eager? He wriggled a finger under the collar of his one good shirt and flexed his neck.

He stared at the cars going by on the street, letting his vision blur, trying in vain to relax. He snapped focus as her jeep turned into the parking lot. Saw her hand shoot out the window in a wave to him as she turned to park around the corner of the building. Mitch suddenly felt numb and cold. He stood, rooted to the concrete as if his shoes were nailed down. This was a mistake, all a mistake, a big mistake. He was sure of it. Then Ann rounded the corner. He was completely taken by the way the warm May breeze lifted her hair, by the way her blue eyes practically glowed in the soft dusk, by the bold way that she walked right up to him and clasped his hands, by the way her mouth turned up more at one corner than the other in a lopsided smile as she said, "Hi."

Mitch reminded himself to breathe. He used the pause to smile back at her, suddenly feeling thankful for his stupid, stupid, stupid big damned mouth. Letting his breath out slowly in an admiring whistle, he squeezed her hands and said, "Hi!"


You can read more about Ann and Mitch here and here. To be continued...