Crazy, Magical Life

Welcome, friends, to this grand adventure we call “life.” Come as you are—we are not formal here, at least not much of the time.

Here in life, you may be anything you wish to be—within reason, of course. You cannot be a unicorn for the simple reason that unicorns don’t exist within the realm of real. Also, you cannot be younger, though I haven’t quite figured out why on that one. Younger exists in reality, though I suppose that negates the statement, “Come as you are,” so perhaps that has something to do with it.

You can be a dreamer. An innovator. A creative. In fact, those types of individuals thrive around here, especially in pandemic life when we’re kinda making things up as we go. The innovators will discover ways to keep busy in the most challenging times. If you would like to be a plumber, you can do that. A teacher is a noble choice. A philanthropist, an accountant, a millionaire… all are within your grasp. If you put your mind to it, and you are willing to do the necessary hard work and persevere through the tough times and the setbacks, you truly can be anything you want to be (well… except for a unicorn).

You will have adventures here in life. Some may be amazing, planned adventures based in travel or exploring or taking risks. Other adventures may be unexpected and threaten to derail you from the path you are traveling. Each of these adventures has many lessons to teach if you are open to learning. Life’s lessons can be hard but internalizing them will allow you to move forward freely and more informed for the next adventure. Or mis-adventure, as the case may be. Always keep in mind that difficult roads often lead to beautiful places.

Welcome to this crazy world where things seldom go as planned—sometimes for long stretches at a time. But there are always other people here to share your experiences and help you through. To celebrate your joys, and to help you bear your heartache.

So come as you are to this crazy world. The people make it all worthwhile. The love, the joy, the laughter, and even the tears. These things are precious. And even if there are no unicorns, life can still be magical beyond measure.

{Photo by Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash}

Beads on a String

Years ago, I was part of a writing group in which we often talked about our inner critic. You know the one I am talking about. My inner critic sits on my shoulder and tells me all the things I am doing wrong. She says things like, “You’re not going to write that, are you?”

I can’t shake her.

I could go out and run three miles or hike a mountain, and when I come back into the house and sit down to write, there she is. Still sitting on my shoulder. Still letting me know my ideas are not good enough. My handwriting isn’t neat enough. My typing isn’t fast enough. The list of criticisms is never ending.

I swipe at my shoulder, trying to brush her off. “Go away!” I grunt, batting at her as if she is an annoying and persistent mosquito.

“Your pen is running out of ink,” she taunts. “It’s a sign. Stop writing. You’re no good anyway.”

I take a deep, slow breath in, gritting my teeth as I gather strength to deal with her. Unlike an annoying bug or persistent distraction, this is my inner critic. She is a part of me, the result of too many years of disappointments and all the voices that told me I wasn’t good enough, from school-yard bullies to power-seeking bosses to abusive partners.

Logically, I can piece together all of the experiences that gave her strength. And as I quickly run through each of these negative people and events, I visualize them as beads on a string, misshapen, dull, and discolored. One by one, I pluck them from the string and flick them to the floor. They ping, bounce once or twice, and scatter to the far reaches of the room, disappearing in dark corners and under seldom-moved appliances.

With a now bare and empty string, I can re-string it with ideas, positive thoughts, and encouragement. These beads are perfect in their varied shapes. Their colors are complementary and offer hope for an uncertain future. Together, they create a beauty that is striking.

The more I am able to diminish my inner critic and soften her criticism, the more beauty I can add to this growing strand of beads.

We all have our own inner critic, and mine is not limited to writing. She is always with me, trying to pull me off track. The metaphor of beads on a string allows me to be selective about the messages I keep. By plucking negative thoughts from the string and casting them away, I can replace them with positive ones. I can refocus away from my inner critic’s constant commentary and work on creating beauty—in writing and in life. My ideas flow more freely, and I am able to play in imagination, unencumbered.

Wonderings

I wonder what would happen if I climbed one of the amazing trees on the grounds of the Country Club where I walk on my lunch break. They are old-growth trees—mostly maples—and their branches are just low enough to reach from the ground or from the slight hill near where they are situated. I could climb up as high as I dare, take a seat, and observe the world. No matter that I’m in my office work clothes. I wonder how long it would be before someone tells me to get down.

I wonder what would happen if parents were willing to give their teenage children the freedom to develop themselves into the young adults they are capable of being. Often, we place restrictions on our children for our own peace of mind. We give them parameters of behavior—do this, not that—that [we believe] restrict them from making mistakes and recognizing their own limits. We do things for them rather than giving them an increasing amount of responsibility over their own lives. And nowadays, more and more parents use tracking apps on their children’s phones to keep track of them. While we believe these things are keeping our children safe, we are actually letting them know, loud and clear, that we don’t trust them… that they are not capable. I wonder what would happen if we eased up a bit, offered guidance when necessary, and showed our children that we trust them to develop their own interests and find their own way.

I wonder what would happen if I spent more time talking to my neighbors. Over the past year, some long-time neighbors have moved away, and several new neighbors have moved in. I haven’t spent the time to get to know them. I haven’t gone out of my way and broken with my routine to talk to them and learn about them. I have no idea about their struggles and their triumphs. I have not offered them a helping hand. In fact, I haven’t really been as “neighborly” as I could be. I wonder if it’s too late.

I wonder what would happen if we took the time to admire each other’s work. When I was walking one over the summer, I passed by a crew of landscapers who are working the bare dry dirt around a newly constructed building. They were shaping the land, smoothing it, and planting grass and plants and mulching around them. They took what was bare and plain and made it beautiful—stunning, really. And they worked long hours in the sun and heat of mid-summer. I stopped. “This looks fantastic!” I said to a worker leaning on his rake while he waited for his crewmates to come back from lunch.

“We’re trying,” he replied as a smile softened his weary expression.

“Well, it looks great! What an improvement just since last week!”

“Thank you,” he replied with a small wave as I resumed my walk. Why don’t we compliment each other more often?

I wonder what would happen if I got rid of all the things in my house that I no longer use. I could put them out for a Yard Sale, but instead of a sale, I could have a big “Yard Free.” People could come and take the things they want. This Yard Free would be mutually beneficial; I would get rid of the stuff that’s cluttering up my house, and others would be able to take the things they need and would use. All of my cast-offs would be put to use and not end up in the landfill. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the months of being at home, it’s that I don’t need nearly as much “stuff” as I own.

I wonder what would happen if we approached the world with love rather than hate. Hate is like Velcro. It has hooks that grab you, dig in, and cling. If you let hate take hold, it can be very difficult to disentangle yourself. Your emotions cloud over, and your physical body becomes a time bomb just waiting for the right moment to set it off. Hate is debilitating. Love can unwind us, help us to breathe more freely, and give us a sense of peace—with ourselves and each other. Love can help us live more freely and make better choices. Love allows us to see the humanity in everyone we meet.

I wonder what would happen if I started to live the life I want to live. How might my creativity and new outlook on life change those around me? I would stop filling my days with the constant work of multiple jobs and, instead, work to develop the endless possibilities that come with making different choices. I would climb more trees and take more risks. I would write more stories and spend time with people who inspire me and make me better. I would make more friends and broaden my perspectives. I would reach out to others and approach all people with love.

Curiosity keeps us moving forward. It helps us to imagine the possibilities of our lives and change the things that are not working. And now that I’ve put these wonderings in writing, I think I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to approach my life with a spirit of courage and adventure. What about you? What are some of your wonderings and how might they change your approach to life?

{Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash}

Disappointment

Today, we are introducing the newest and most prevalent of flavors for 2020: DISAPPOINTMENT. This new flavor will be the one to taint everything in your life this season. It is the flavor of pumpkin, but instead of the normal cinnamon-sweet spices, it’s tinged with a hint of bitter licorice and way more salt than is necessary. After all, 2020 has been nothing if not salty. This new flavor is not the best combination, but it’s not the worst, exactly. That’s what makes it disappointment.

Disappointment is the flavor you will get when you send your child to school on the first day. You spend the morning reveling in your time alone—the first time in six months! You decide you might be able to get used to this again, but when your child walks in the door at the end of the day, he is carrying a mask you don’t recognize because he traded the one you sent with him for one he liked better.

Disappointment is the flavor of the day when you arrive at college (or high school or middle school) only to determine that nothing, and I mean nothing, is the same as it was when you left. The hallways have one-way traffic mimicking the aisles in the grocery store. The furniture in the lounge and common areas has been removed, and meals are now a grab-and-go affair—there is no sitting with your friends at your favorite table. Disappointment is all you can taste.

Disappointment will run through your veins and ooze out your pores when all the plans you made—for fall and the holidays—are cancelled, yet again. These are the plans you made while you sat at home twiddling your thumbs all spring and summer, itching to go out. Cancelled. Because, as it turns out, children can catch COVID; they can spread it faster than runny peanut butter, and in fact, they are itty-bitty super-spreaders.

Disappointment is the flavor that rolls around on your tongue when you need to do something different. As you scroll your social media, you see pictures of your friends at the beach, camping with large groups of “family,” attending parties and weddings and large rallies, and you want to be out there, too. You wonder, did I dream the whole pandemic thing? Because you just don’t feel like all those options are available to your cautious self.

Disappointment finds its way in the when you venture out to eat a meal at your favorite venue. It’s the first time that you and your friends/family are all available, so you arrange to meet up for dinner. But the clear skies that have prevailed for a month have clouded over and it’s pouring rain. The only available tables are the ones that are outside and not under one of the small tents.

Disappointment leaves its licoricey bitterness when you are driving an hour from home for an event. Halfway there—and too far from home—you realize you forgot your required mask, and you kick yourself because you have been so good about remembering. And now you’ll have to spend hours in a disposable mask that smells vaguely of sweaty socks.

Disappointment leaves the sharpest aftertaste when you travel three hours to check in on your mother. You confine yourself to a small space just inside the door of your childhood home. When, after a few hours of conversation, you turn to leave, you remember you cannot hug your mom good-bye.

If you get sick of the taste of disappointment, think about new and unusual ways you can enjoy the fall, despite the restrictions posed by the coronavirus. Gather school supplies to donate to a local charity. Join some friends for a bonfire and s’more making. Host an apple-picking party or an outdoor crafting/pumpkin carving party. Go on a hike or bike ride. Create something new.

Disappointment may be the overwhelming flavor of fall, but CREATIVITY and OPPORTUNITY are amazing flavors that will wash away the bitterness of disappointment.

{Photo by Pedro da Silva on Unsplash}

*Superstar* (a little February fun)

When I am alone in my car (and the circumstances are just right), I am the greatest singer on Earth. Day after day, week after week, year after year, I work hard to perfect my craft. I belt out the lyrics of songs I know, and I make up lyrics to the songs I don’t know. The acoustics are just perfect in my car with a background white noise of the tires humming along.

As I drive down the road in my own (somewhat odd and perhaps a bit self-serving) universe, I hold free concerts for thousands of adoring fans. They hold up their cell phones (since lighters are no longer a concert-fan-thing) and sway to the music. Sometimes, if I inspire this crowd of concert-goers, they will sing along in a great moment of unity, joining in for the chorus, or if I point to them, prompting them to sing. They know each of my songs by heart, and I love when they sing to me!

The minute I pull into the driveway of my building at work, the crowd begins to dissipate, fading into the trees surrounding the parking lot. My concert comes to an end. I step out of my car and back into the façade of professional educator. I become normal again. No fame and no fans follow me into the building. In seconds, I have gone from Superman to Clark Kent. I push my glasses up my nose as I settle into the desk chair and turn on some soft streaming music to fill the quiet that descended with the normalcy of the day.

As much fun as it is to think about superstardom, I embrace my normal life and the role that best fits my true strengths. Yes, I may (okay…I do) sing in the car, I only sing when I am alone for a reason. It’s just better that way.

Trust me.

{Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash}

Nothing

Nothing. That is where I am. Still. After weeks of struggling with nothing, I am still at nothing. No ideas. No motivation. No creativity. N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

So… I have decided to go out and steal some ideas. I’m going to go and listen in on other people’s conversations. I’m going to use their ideas to jump-start my writing. Maybe, if I’m feeling particularly persnickety, I will interrupt their dialogue—jump in and try to redirect their ideas. I might even mess with them just a bit to see if I can incite a heated debate or two. You know what might be fun? I could follow someone around the grocery store while they carry on a phone conversation. I could keep reaching in front of them to collect items from my list, and since I am there, I might offer them advice to deal with the person to whom they are talking!

I am going to engage in some random acts of mischief. Maybe I’ll swap some price placards at the grocery store (those things are so easy to change out!) or leave messages on chalkboards in random classrooms: Today’s class has been moved to room 302. I could walk around in a Halloween mask, or—if I’m really feeling daring—flip the arrows on construction detours. (This last idea would be best carried out under cover of darkness…).

I am going to pretend to occupy myself with some intensely secret projects. These projects will involve all kinds of crazy equipment and supplies, none of which will be related in any conceivable fashion. But I will collect everything I “need” in a massive pile on my front lawn, all the while touting my “top secret endeavor.” Or maybe I’ll just dig a six by six by three-foot hole in my front garden. That might make  my neighbors curious about what I was up to….

I am going to plant seeds of kindness. I am going to leave post-it notes with inspirational messages in places where their discovery will be a pleasant surprise—next to the toilet paper dispenser, inside the elevator door, on people’s car windows, and on the napkin dispensers in the dining hall. I am going to hold doors, offer words of encouragement, and hand out flowers on a street corner.

I am going to hold a wacky raffle and give away tickets for free. (How many people will write their names and emails on wacky raffle tickets for a stranger?) I will raffle off items from my home that I no longer need or want. This will be a much easier way to get rid of my clutter than selling it or hauling it away. And imagine what a pleasure it will be to email strangers and say, Hey, you’ve won this week’s wacky raffle!!

I am going to go out on a limb once a day for the next week and step out of my comfort zone. I am going to sit with a stranger who is crying or upset. I am going to talk to the children whose parents are consumed by their phones and not paying attention. I am going to offer a helping hand, a hug, or a kind word or bit of encouragement and hope that I can make someone’s day just a little brighter.

And maybe when I’m done with all of this, maybe … just maybe … ideas will start to flow. Because right now, I’ve got no ideas. Not even one. I’ve got nothing. But if you want a wacky raffle ticket, let me know. I’ve got those!

{Photo by Mark Eder on Unsplash}

Recharging

I am having difficulty writing these days. I don’t know where I’m stuck, but my mind will focus just long enough for me to have an idea and to think it is going to result in a blog post. But when I am part way through the writing, the idea fizzles, and I can’t figure out what it is I thought I would say. Or I’m distracted and end up a thousand miles away. Or perhaps… I have lost the magic.

Admittedly, I have been busy. The start of the school year has kept my mind moving a million miles a minute, or thereabouts. And long days of training students and prepping classes have kept me away from home and far from my computer.

Sometimes, we just need to take the time to work on finding balance and regaining our footing. So I am putting this here as a place holder to say, “I’m working on it.”

And I am. I am brainstorming and freewriting, doodling and walking. And I am staring at maps and asking for directions to help me find my way.

Before long, I will be back. The ideas will flow, and I will have direction. With any luck, my writing will be better than ever. Because the fact is I haven’t lost the magic. I am simply recharging my magic wand.

{Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash}

Boredom

When I was a kid, summers were long and slow, and by mid-August, boredom had fully settled in. The long summer days had been filled with play and bike rides and make believe. We had spent time with friends and siblings and cousins—perhaps to the point of annoying each other. We had filled long nights with neighborhood hide-and-seek games that stretched well past dark. We had caught fireflies then set them free. We had grown Monarch butterflies from tiny caterpillars. We went to camp, and we read piles of books. We had spent long, lazy days in the pool until our lips turned blue. Picnics and bike rides, baseball games and kite-flying, watermelon and popsicles—we had done it all. We were bored. And we were ready to go back to school.

But in Massachusetts, where we started school after Labor Day, we still had many long days stretching out in front of us. And we had to fill them.

Being bored was never really a bad thing. Boredom instilled me with creativity. I thought up fun things to keep myself busy. I worked to create useful things from the items we had around our home. I learned to make craft items that people would use, giving me an eye for how shapes, colors, and textures worked together.

I became a deep thinker. In my boredom, I had grand daydreams in which I traveled the world and beyond, taking imaginative detours and side roads. I tried on different identities, playing pretend and dress-up, shedding my quiet personality and donning the cloak of someone more adventurous. I thought about the way the elements of my life fit together.

Boredom pushed me outside where I learned about nature. I watched caterpillars hatch from miniscule eggs and butterflies emerge from chrysalises. We rescued baby bunnies from the neighborhood cats, and nursed an oriole with a broken wing. I explored trails and woods and followed streams. Occasionally, I came to the end of the road and had to figure out where to go next.

Boredom gave me focus. It gave me time to reflect on who I was, what I wanted to do, and how I planned to get there. It forced me to think about which career options would be the best for me, my future plans, and how to deal with my thoughts about myself.

Boredom forced me to realize that life is not all that bad.

And now, as I watch kids focus on their phones, compulsively check messages, and interact with the people sitting next to them via text, I can’t help but think we’ve gotten pretty far off track. Maybe what we need is a little more boredom.

{Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash}

Highway Musings

The other day, I was driving up the highway on my way home from work. It was a hot, sunny, summer day leading up to the Fourth of July. An ice cream truck drove by—from my daughter’s favorite ice cream store. According to my daughter, this place has the best chocolate ice cream anywhere. And I must say, their chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream is my personal favorite.

As the truck passed me, the driver stuck an arm out the window, as if to wave. I’m sure she was just throwing out a piece of fuzz or catching some air or some other oddity, but it looked, for all intent, like she was waving. To me. As she passed.

And just for a moment, my mind responded in kind. It meandered off the beaten path into a world of adventure. I had the brief flash of imagination that my daughter had somehow managed to “borrow” (i.e. steal) this vehicle to take it on a joy-ride. Maybe she could sell some ice cream along the way. Or host an ice cream party of her own making. She realized as she was driving, of course, that she had accidentally taken the same route as her mother, and at the same time, so she felt obligated to wave. As one does when one is driving a stolen vehicle.

I couldn’t imagine when I might see her again, as she was heading north to some unknown destination. But by the time she reappeared at our house, no doubt the adventure would be over, the truck safely returned, and she would enter the house bearing ice cream for all. I couldn’t wait!

Clearly, sometimes the traffic gets the better of me. In my adventure, there was no thought of police, fines, or any of the consequences of stealing a truck. No, my highway imaginings were all about the ice cream, the thrill, and the fun. But if I’m stuck in traffic, I guess I’m lucky if my mind wanders away on some fun adventure!

Remnants

The last time I was visiting Mom, she handed me a small plastic sandwich bag. “This is stuff I cleaned off your father’s dresser. Do you want any of it?” I studied the bag, turning it over in my hand. Seriously? I squinted through the plastic, my mind flipping back and forth between: Of course I want it! and Why would I want any of this?

When my son was little, he would pick up all sorts of remnants that he found on the floor. If we walked into a fabric or craft store, he would gather balls of thread that had fallen off the frayed edges of material on the bolt, pieces of silk flowers that were lying on the floor, buttons that had fallen off clothing. His pockets were never empty, and I had to be careful to check every single pocket on laundry day.

The bag my mother handed me was much like the contents of my young son’s pockets—remnants of a life of gathering. The bag contained pieces of unrelated objects collected on the daily journey and deposited into a common container on the top of Dad’s dresser. All they had in common was the container in which they ended up. And the man who had gathered them.

The bag held washers, screws, broken things, a bunch of oddball items. I sat down on the floor and untied the knot at the top of the bag. I stirred the contents with my finger, revealing all of the treasures that Dad had felt it necessary to keep. The metal spring from a wooden clothespin. A ring that I had made by winding yellow electrical wire around itself. Around and around and around. A firecracker with an old, frayed fuse, but no doubt just as explosive as ever. Two broken angel wings, clearly from two different angels.

No. Dad was not an angel wings kind of man. Two broken eagle wings, clearly from two different eagles. But with a lack context, they are the wings of angels in my mind. Under the circumstances and left to my interpretatin, angels are more appropriate.

Why did Dad collect these items, number one, and save them all, number two? What was it about the yellow wire ring? The firecracker? The angel wings?

This bag might seem to be full of useless items, some broken or seemingly meaningless. But they had meaning to Dad. He saved them all for a reason. Perhaps he intended to glue the wings back on the angels. Find the wooden parts of the clothespin. Set off the one remaining firecracker. Or maybe he was waiting to see how someone else might piece together the remnants he gathered up along his way.