Small, Simple Steps

There was a time when I found lots of ‘stuff’ somehow comforting. But no more. At this stage of my life, I find myself very drawn to culling, tidying, and divesting.

Unfortunately, I am still drawn to gadgets. More often than not, once I have them I find them a bit less magical than imagined. So there’s definitely some before-the-fact culling that I need to start doing for myself. But it’s the after-the-fact divesting that I’ll be focusing on here.

My habit, for the past several months, has been to work on letting go of small things, sometimes-but-not-always mementos, that collect dust and were meaningful at one time. But these aren’t things that I actually use or need. And in particular, I don’t need them to commemorate the moments or the people they are connected to.

So, I have been in the habit of photographing those objects, writing a brief essay about them, marking their import, and then letting them go. I’ve got a collection of those essays on my laptop. The process has freed me up to let go of small things as I lighten the load, as it were.

So today, as an example, I’m highlighting something that isn’t of sentimental value but fills the divestment bill. It’s this small basket that I’ve had hanging on the shelf above my desk for nearly a decade. It’s filled with markers and highlighters, none of which I EVER use.

Okay, maybe I used the black marker once, about three weeks ago. But really – an entire basket just for that?

So, I’m going to pull down the basket and take it to the kitchen, where I’ll check to see if anyone wants any part of it. If not, the contents will be gone shortly thereafter. As for the basket, I’ll see. Perhaps I’ll use it to hold something else. I actually have my eye on another ‘container’ that I can let go of.

I wonder if the random objects in my room feel at all concerned about being culled. As my eyes scan the nooks and crannies here, are they cringing and trying to hide? Hmmm, maybe my knick-knacks and tchotchkes are afraid of me? In my eagerness to tidy and divest, am I creating an atmosphere of terror?

I’d never thought about it that way.

Am I an ogre?

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The Writing Habit

I’ve never (until fairly recently) bought into the idea that practice is important. My life just didn’t lend itself to sustained effort. There were too many interruptions in a volatile household.

And the things that spelled success in school came fairly easily to me. So, mostly, I didn’t need to practice. Indeed, the subjects that required practice, like math and music and foreign languages, were pursuits that I shied away from. I did (sort of) get the idea that practice was important in athletics. But even there, when it got hard, I was inclined to back off.

Use it or lose it…

This lesson has come as something of a surprise to me. But it’s impossible to ignore. If I don’t exercise one day, the next day it’s more difficult. The muscle I built on Tuesday will be gone on Thursday if I don’t keep using it.

Humbling and a little bit daunting, I find that I simply have to devote increasing amounts of time in order to maintain a certain level of fitness and function. It’s definitely still possible to improve on those levels, too. But then if I stop, the gains melt quickly away. And the whole enterprise takes place within the framework of the sobering inevitability of loss.

So I’m learning that a regular routine of exercise is very important. And slacking off, unlike in the past, has real, palpable consequences. As I go through my routine now, I recall some of the exercises my grandmother used to do. I remember finding them quasi-amusing in my youthful hubris. Now I see what she was doing and I’m at once impressed and taken aback (“How the hell did I suddenly get to be this old?!”)

What does this have to do with writing?

Recently (like, on January 1, 2019) I recommitted to my blogging. This is something I’ve done pretty regularly since 2009. Generally, I’ve had the same success with that commitment as I did with quitting smoking. It was a resolve that I repeated over and over, ’til the last time, when it held.

So, is that where I am with this writing? I don’t know for sure, but something is definitely feeling different. Perhaps it’s because my goals are less grandiose and more in line with the simple act of practicing. Lowered expectations enhance the sustainability of the enterprise. This, in turn, has a very real and positive impact on the results and, by extension, the rewards.

And yes, the rewards are palpable. Even one month in I find that I’m shaking off some of the rust. The words come more easily and exotic, long-forgotten synonyms are rising up from the depths. Confidence and creativity peep out from the underbrush, and I’m more willing to take risks and explore.

But, not getting ahead of myself and slipping into grandiose complacency is vital. Practice is the key. What emerges will emerge organically, from the sustaining work of focusing on the next step, then the next.

Just keep showing up and just keep doing it.

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I Take This Job Seriously

So this morning, even though I’m running a little bit late, I wanted to be sure that you all were up-to-date on the latest developments in Trumpland. What I’m beginning to feel is that there’s something actually pathetic about the man.

And I suppose that may be true of all authoritarian types. Bullies all, their childish foibles and vulnerabilities drive their urgent need to wield power and be in control. Ultimately, these so-called ‘strongmen’ have a lot that they are trying to hide. And if they weren’t generally so thuggish and nasty, there would be pathos in their desperate strivings.

So, the latest example from Trumpland has to do with his doctored photos. Yes, apparently the orange dude is having someone clean up his image. So fare, three photos have been found, two of them recently posted. Gizmodo broke the story, which was then picked up by the Washington Post and the BBC. I am hoping it has legs — too juicy to just let it die.

The strangest part of what is already an incredibly odd story is that, among the things altered, has been the length of Trump’s fingers. Seriously, folks. Here’s what the Gizmodo piece has to say about it:

Donald Trump, an unindicted co-conspirator whose own lawyer admits that the president was trying to secure a real estate deal in Russia as late as November of 2016, has been somewhat sensitive about the size of his hands ever since journalist Graydon Carter described Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian.” Carter was writing for the now-defunct Spy magazine in the 1980s when he made the observation and the insult has reportedly bothered Trump for decades. Carter claims that the president has even sent photos of his hands to Carter with the fingers circled in gold Sharpie.

“To this day, I receive the occasional envelope from Trump,” Carter wrote in 2015, before Trump won the presidency. “There is always a photo of him—generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers. I almost feel sorry for the poor fellow because, to me, the fingers still look abnormally stubby.”

Gizmodo

So, while the US Government is shut down because of a presidential tantrum, his sycophantic minions are at work lengthening his fingers in social media posts. (And yes, his base probably thinks this is all a big Deep State plot. And yes, we are the laughing-stock of the entire damn world.) Here’s Chris Hayes’ take on the whole odd debacle — watch Thing 1 and Thing 2. (Note to MSNBC — you should make it easier to embed your video clips!)

Stephen Colbert, in an epic take-down of this tiny man, offers some further edits that, I think we all can agree, would be most welcome. Watch to the end!

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Halladay HOF (Schilling Not So Much)

roy halladay
Roy Halladay

So happy to see the news that the late great Roy Halladay is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His records, not to mention his demeanor, surely put him in the ranks of the all-time greats.

Meanwhile, as you may have gleaned from a recent post, I am not at all unhappy to see that Curt Schilling continues to be snubbed by the HOF voters. Here’s an exhaustive comparison of the stats for the two pitchers. Looks like he of the bloody sock will have to wait for another round of votes, while the clock on his eligibility continues to tick.

So, statistically speaking, he ranks right up there with the greats. But, as some would argue (myself included) induction into the Hall of Fame is about more than just stats. It elevates and shines a light on a person. And with Mr. Schilling, what’s illuminated isn’t at all pretty. Indeed, it’s a wee bit like turning on a light in a roach-infested kitchen and watching hundreds of little creatures scurry back into the shadows.

Of course, President Trump’s endorsement did what it usually does. (Funny, what happens to everything he touches.)

But, alliteratively speaking, it’s Schilling’s sickening soul that most significantly sullies his stats and sinks his ship. Yes indeedy, he has a right to speak out. And HOF voters have a right to vote as they see fit.

My hope is that in his final years of eligibility he continues to fall short. As with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds (albeit for different reasons) Cooperstown needs to be reserved for the true greats of the game. And by that I mean, at a minimum, athletes who didn’t cheat and are generally-acceptable human beings.

Sorry, Curt, you’ve eliminated yourself on the latter count IMHO.

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Birdsong

Several mornings lately I’ve heard a familiar birdsong as I’ve walked to my car. Not yesterday, mind you, since it was well below zero and no wildlife was making even a peep. But other than yesterday, my avian friend greeted me at least twice last week, sounding unseasonably spring-like, offering hope of things to come.

My morning friend.

It’s definitely been a cardinal paying these visits. And they’ve given me pause.

First, it was the springtime feel of the birdsong. But as I thought about it, I remembered that cardinals are viewed, in many cultures, as apparitions or as messengers from the other side. Since these appearances roughly coincided with the anniversary of my mother’s death, this was striking to me. And, indeed, the fact that the bird’s song immediately garnered my attention made it all feel pretty personal.

So I pause now and try on the idea that this was an outreach from the spirit world. Honestly, it feels a little weird to seriously consider this. And even more weird-feeling to consider its being my mother. I’ve come to see her as not having much genuine awareness of or concern about me in life. So the idea that she’d have developed that capacity in the years since 1975 is foreign.

But what if she is/was reaching out somehow? It’s a thought that I actually don’t know how to hold.

But now I’ve gone there.

So should I assume that the universe is inviting me to try holding it? And how do I need to stretch in order to do that? What unused muscles shall I enlist? What self-protective tensions shall I release?

Opening my heart, even just a crack, to this foreign idea disturbs a staunchly ingrained and long-held worldview.

It lets in air and light.

It unbalances me.

At once disorienting, uncomfortable, and compelling, surely it’s a worthwhile thing to do then. How could something this jarring not be worth exploring further?

Having brought myself to this place, with the help of a small red bird, surely, I’m called to continue…

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Unworthy Ambitions

I want to be unfollowed by some of the more egregiously hateful and asinine jerks on Twitter. There it is — an ‘ambition’ that’s a total waste of time.

Of course, I’d love it if Pinocchio himself were to block me, but I know that’s doubtful, as he’s so obsessed with Nancy and his wall. The likes of Annie Coulter and Jimmy Woods are high on my list, too. I occasionally try a tweak or two in their direction but have so far failed in my attempts to adequately annoy them. I’m not saying I’ve given up, though. Just going for lower hanging fruit – like this dude…

Cheap shill…

Today my focus is on @Gehrig38 — aka Curt Schilling. He of the bloody sock and the absolutely #deplorable views. What a sick and ignorant waste of skin this guy is! I am so sad to have to admit that he was ever a Phillie. But at least it was long ago and far away.

His Wikipedia entry begins with a listing of his ‘former’ statuses: “…former Major League Baseball right-handed pitcher, former video game developer, and former baseball color analyst.” Kinda reminds me of James Woods, the former actor. Both are clearly has-beens who are still (somewhat pathetically) trying to garner attention.

In his present-day life, the shill is apparently a Breitbart aficionado, as well as being an avid Trump supporter. Oh, and it sure looks to me like he is also a grifter or, at best, a really really inept business person.

But perhaps what bothers me the most about this self-serving right-wing shill is his appropriation of Lou Gehrig’s name and legacy. As if the Iron Horse bore any similarity to the small man that is Curt. Indeed, the two couldn’t be more different.

For example here’s what Gehrig did very quietly and out of a sense of civic responsibility in retirement (after his devastating diagnosis):

In October 1939, he accepted Mayor Fiorello La Guardia‘s appointment to a 10-year term as a New York City Parole Commissioner (Gehrig had moved from New Rochelle to Riverdale to satisfy a residency requirement for the job) and was sworn into office on January 2, 1940.[82] The Parole Commission commended the ex-ballplayer for his “firm belief in parole, properly administered,” stating that Gehrig “indicated he accepted the parole post because it represented an opportunity for public service. He had rejected other job offers – including lucrative speaking and guest appearance opportunities – worth far more financially than the $5,700 a year commissionership.” Gehrig visited New York City’s correctional facilities, but insisted that the visits not be covered by news media.[85] As always, Gehrig quietly and efficiently performed his duties…and he quietly resigned from the position about a month before his death.

Wikipedia
Schilling and friend
Nearly as overweight, now, as his idol Drumpf, and just as short on friends…

Meanwhile, in retirement, our friend Mr. Schilling has spent his time launching sketchy money-making schemes, pushing cray conspiracy theories, and celebrating threats to journalists. A self-righteous swamp-dweller extraordinaire, Schilling’s failed video-game business sounds an awful lot like the many failed businesses of his idol Donald “Pinnochio” Trump. Propped up by fame, empty scams (aka “deals”) and tax-payer money (or Daddy’s money, depending on what’s closest to hand) these geniuses ultimately had to admit failure.

And who suffered? Not them, although victimhood is a central part of their schticks. Poor Curt and Donald, hounded by nefarious conspiracies fomented by far-left ‘crazies,’ they live in a scary world of pure projection.

Honest-to-god, if they weren’t so hateful, I’d feel sorry for the both of them.

But they are, and I don’t.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Good Grief

I’m coming up on the 44th anniversary of my mother’s death on January 19. When she died I was 22 years old and had just graduated from college the spring before. And looking at those numbers, it strikes me that, as of this year, we overlapped for just 1/3 of my life. A brief span, but her shadow stretches across all the years.

So, today my aim isn’t to write about her, but about grief and the act of grieving. Her death was sudden and my recollection of the time surrounding it is blurred at best. The years following were a time of adjusting to the wrenching change. There were no road maps back then or at least none that I was aware of or open to. I was 22 years old. In my mind I was most definitely all grown up and not really looking for advice or support.

What I can see now, 44 years later, is how very young, confused and lost I was as I stumbled blindly through that time. I remember that I did a lot of writing and a lot of listening to sad music. In the light cast by sudden death, I romanticized what had been a complicated and fraught mother-daughter relationship. And my other relationships through those years were freighted with the heaviness and volatility of grief. But I couldn’t see that at all. After the initial shock and early months of disorientation, I thought I was picking myself up and moving on. And I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Close the book and get back to living my life.

But what I’ve learned, in the years since January 19, 1975, is that you never really close the book. And in order to truly move on, you first have to move in.

Unfortunately, our tendency (and the more WASPish elements of our culture encourage this) is to back away from grief and, indeed, from feelings in general. What that means, practically speaking, is that we don’t actually move anywhere. We get stuck on square one, working stoically to avoid experiencing the profound and disquieting feelings that our loss elicits. Those feelings stay right with us, buried and waiting to be experienced.

And the thing is that grief is about losses of all sizes and shapes. It may be the actual loss of a person in our lives. Or maybe it’s the loss of a relationship, a core element of our identity, or a cherished pastime. (For some of us, it could even be the loss of a football game, sadly enough!)

Any loss strips something away and leaves something raw and vulnerable exposed. And the more those losses pile up, static and ungrieved, the more buried and unexperienced feelings we drag around with us. It gets heavy. It changes us, and not for the better.

So healing is about recognizing and tending to these wounds. (I looked up debridement just now, and while there may be an analogy to be explored there, it was a little too gory for me, so I’ll aim to be a little less bloody in making my point.)

I see grieving as a choice to open to the pain of loss and the real treasures that it holds. It’s a layered experience. It takes you ever more deeply down winding paths, into hidden caverns of self-knowledge. You’ll find places you may not have known existed. You’ll be surprised. The world you see will be altered. And you’ll evolve and deepen, along with your feelings about the loss you’re grieving.

Opening doors rather than closing them, grief introduces you to worlds you can’t imagine when you’re standing, stuck, on square one. Moving toward rather than away, giving voice rather than silencing, grief is a tender and painful gift. It’s humanity at its richest. Turning away from it, we turn away from ourselves. And that’s the biggest loss there is…

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The Run is Done, and I Think It Was My Fault

Move over Alshon. This one’s on me.

Last week I posted the recipe for the Eagles’ next successful step in the playoffs. It was simple and to the point: do the same thing you did last week — exactly. Easy peasy, right?

But what did I do? Or, more to the point, what did I NOT do?

  • For starters, I wore the wrong T-shirt during the first part of the day. Last Sunday I had worn my lucky Pope Francis Eagles #15 shirt. And I had set it carefully aside so that it would be ready for this week. But I forgot and didn’t put it on ’til about 1 PM, which was WAY too late for the good luck to take root. (You could tell, just from watching the game. The papal power was there and working for about the first 15-minutes, but then it dissipated. I feel SO guilty!)
  • I didn’t go for a walk before the game. Having taken a walk last week, I knew full well that this might be an important part of the formula for success. Ignoring it was selfish and almost unforgivable.
  • I had on my Celek shirt during the game, but hadn’t put my father’s picture beside the TV. I hadn’t used it the week before but if I had been focused I would have known that it could have added some vital energy for the second half. This would have been an opportunity to make up for earlier mistakes, and I totally missed it.
  • Bottom line, I blew it. I didn’t do my job (and yes, I hear you, Bill Belichick, I hear you).
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Living with the Depleting Stress that is Trump

If your family of origin was like many, there was a degree of unpredictability in your days. Indeed, most of us grew up quietly comparing our experience to the myth of the ‘normal family’ and wondering what we had done to screw things up.

Once you realized your family was different, maybe you invested energy trying to hide those familial ‘nasty bits’ from the outside world. Or maybe you railed against the unfairness. Maybe you left, only to learn from The Eagles in later life that “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

So, we carry our histories with us. And when we encounter echoes of it all, well, those echoes resonate powerfully and often unconsciously.

And now, here, we have family dysfunction writ large. This American presidency feels nauseatingly familiar for some of us. There’s a bully at the Bully Pulpit. And so we’re back where we started, living with a level of baseline stress that is profoundly enervating.

Daddy is nuts or drunk or maybe on some kind of drug that he puts up his nose, and a third of the people in the family are acting like there’s nothing weird going on. The adults in the room are leaving, and the institutions that are supposed to help in situations like this seem to not be functioning properly. Meanwhile, we try to carry on with our everyday lives. It’s a tough road.

Listen to this for awhile and let yourself just feel what you feel…
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It Worked, Eagles Fans!

Wow!

So whatever you did today, do the same thing next week.

Exactly the same thing…

Peace out.

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