Joy of Life

“The most absurd and reckless aspirations have sometimes led to extraordinary success.” 

- Vauvenargues, was a French writer.

I just finished reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. A long title for a great book that reminded me what I’d learned from my dad; that life’s an adventure, the good and the bad. Feel it all. If you don’t, the colors fade and life’s a chore, or worse hell. I’d rather embrace life to the fullest. So, I’ll go out on a limb and tell you about a crazy thing I did.

Five years ago, I retired from my secure teaching job to become a writer. I’d only been teaching for ten years, so my annuity isn’t very large. I know some of you will think I was really stupid. However, it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a struggle and sometimes down right frightening.

I may have written in an earlier post about my epiphany on my way to school in the spring of 2007. My soul was telling me I was supposed to be a writer and not a public school teacher. I have to say, I love being in the classroom. I love seeing the light bulbs go off as my students gain new understandings. But, I’d been feeling restless for quite some time. I knew my life wasn’t quite what it could be. Then inspiration, or God, or my soul got through and I knew I was going to be a writer.

On the last day of school I was packing up my room. I’d decided to teach one more year. That would make my teaching career an even ten years. As I packed, I was thinking of my writing life ahead. The thought came to me, I could quit right now. I haven’t signed my contract. The moment I thought that, I was filled with the most profound joy. It permeated my entire being. My skin tingled, my heart pumped for joy. I felt as if I could float out of the room. That feeling stayed with me while I loaded the car and on my hour drive home. I couldn’t wait to tell Barry. I sailed through the door confident that he’d be filled with joy too. Boy was I wrong. When I told him about my experience and the possibility of quitting sooner, a look of fear spread over his face and burst my joy bubble. Mine was the larger income. “How will we make up your income.” Logic set in. The joy was gone. I had no answer.

When I walked up to the School District office with my signed contract, my heart was heavy. I knew that feeling well. When I make a decision that goes against what my soul wants, even if it does look crazy, my heart is heavy and my stomach sinks. It’s so different than the elation I’d felt just a few days earlier.

I worked that last year. It was a good year. I learned a lot about living in the present moment. About taking a breath and getting centered. I was also inspired to apply at the local Community College as adjunct instructor, which has turned out to be a great learning experience.

I can’t say that these five years have been easy. Oh, no. We’ve had financial difficulties. I’ve felt clutching fear about money at times. But, We’ve also faced our fears, and asked for and received Divine help in setting financial goals, which are now putting us on a more secure footing. Barry and I have never starved, we still have our house and we’ve learned to trust again. We’re always taken care of, if we allow it. We’ve worked through our fears and for me at least, I’ve learned that I am not the amount of money in my bank account, nor the clothes I wear, the car I drive, or the house I live in. I’m so much more. I’ve also learned there are so many things to appreciate about life. We’re both finding new creative outlets. And I love writing.

As I was finishing Brené Brown’s book, I remembered a silly little incident when I took Barry home to meet my family that illustrates what it’s like to feel joy in life.

It was our Christmas break. Barry and I had become engaged the winter before, but he’d never met my family. We’d had a great time during our visit. On New Year’s eve, we decided to stay home with my parents. Neither one of us are party people, and we didn’t have friends to go out with. So, we stayed home, watched the celebrations on TV, ate popcorn, and played games. As the ball in Time Square descended and the count down commenced, Barry prepared to give me my New Year’s kiss. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We were startled when dad yelled “Happy New Year,” jumped out of his recliner and hopped to mom’s recliner to give her a kiss. She had the chair reclined and dad leaned too hard on the chair. Mom, dad and the recliner ended up upside down. We were all laughing so hard we couldn’t get mom right again for several minutes. Barry said, “Now I know I’ll fit into this family.” It’s a moment of joy that we told over and over again at family gatherings. It’s one of the stories we shared at the family reunion just after dad’s death.

My dad had Joy of Life and he taught that to me, even though I forgot it for awhile. It’s back now. I’m grateful for so many things, especially my decision to become a writer. I may never be rich and famous, but I’m doing what I love. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Remembering Dad

Sunday is Father’s Day, which makes me think of my dad. He died in 2004. That was a hard time, because he was my mentor. Even now I have a hard time articulating what he meant to me. The deepest feelings are the hardest to express. However, I’m going to try by telling a story about him that illustrates his character.

When I was a Junior and Senior in high school my dad was the camp director for the youth camps sponsored by our church. The kids at the camps came to love him, because he didn’t deal with problems the same way other adults did. Here’s an example of what I mean.

One year at camp, a rivalry started between a group of girls and a group of boys. One group had played a prank on the other group and of course retaliation was required. I don’t remember how many rounds of this went on before, the girls came up with a smashing idea: Take all the faucet handles from the boys bathroom. Of course, I wasn’t part of the group, they were sure I’d tell my father what they were planning. The next morning, none of the men and boys could take showers or even wash their hands because all the faucet handles were gone. During breakfast, dad announced we were going to suspend the regular schedule and have a special meeting. The girls were shaking in their boots. They were sure they were going to be sent home in disgrace.

During the meeting dad said that he understood how fun it was to play pranks. It could build camaraderie. But, it’d gone too far now and the faucets needed to be returned so the men and boys could get cleaned up. If the girls responsible brought the faucets back, all would be forgiven.Then the girls and boys responsible would need to make amends. All the campers looked around at each other in disbelief. I knew what they were thinking. “An adult is going to forgive and forget and not humiliate us?” We were dismissed to our first activity. The culprits had until lunch to return the faucets.

The girls came to me, “Is your dad serious. If we confess and give back the faucets, he won’t send us home?”

“Yep. He always means what he says.”

“Will he punish us?”

“Well, yeah. But, he’ll talk to you first and you’ll get a chance to decide your punishment. And the guys will too.”

“Man, you’re dad is cool. You’re lucky.”

“I know.”

The girls turned in the faucets to my dad right then. I went with them at their request. When they handed dad the bag, he looked at the girls and then in mock despair said, “Oh, I can’t believe you sweet girls did this. Oh, my, what are we going to do?” He went on for awhile like that until he noticed that the girls were embarrassed.

The girls laughed, but hung their heads. Then my dad said, “Well, we’ve got to fix this. You’ve proved that you’re mature young ladies by admitting what you did. Now, we need to talk about how this got started, who the boys involved are, and put things to rights again. What do you think?”

I could tell by the look on the girls faces, they couldn’t believe it. He was asking for their help in resolving the issue. They weren’t getting yelled at, or slapped, or sent home. In a way it was a much more painful process, because my dad was requiring them to do some self-examination. Then of course the boys and girls involved were required to do extra chores, or some such thing and the camp went on. After that, my dad was the hero of the camp. He’d treated those kids like human beings who make mistakes, but are intelligent and can think of ways to make things right. Not only that, he didn’t humiliate them. They knew, as my brother and I did, that he cared about us no matter what we did. He trusted us.

That’s how I was raised. When I did something wrong, my dad and mom would talk with me. “Why did you do that? What were you thinking and feeling when you did it? What can we do to make things right?”

My dad understood that sometimes people do things out of fear, or anger, or lack of self-love. They go a little bit crazy. Whenever we’d ask dad why people kill, or mistreat others, he’d always say, “Because they’re in so much pain. They think if they hurt others it’ll make them feel better, but it doesn’t. That never works does it?” That’s always the way it was. Dad asked us lots of questions to get us to think. My dad, who’d dropped out of high school because he had undiagnosed dyslexia, used the Socratic Method to teach us great lessons.

I guess he’s the one who started me on the path of personal growth. I’m always asking questions about movies I’m watching, or books I’m reading or things that happen. And I learned something else from my dad. I am not my mistakes. I’m more than that. That’s why my friends liked to hang out at our house. My parents, and especially my dad saw value in them, even when they messed up.

Dad, I miss hearing you say, “I’m proud of you.” Having you as my dad has made all the difference.

Reading is Dangerous

My husband suggested that I might want to write a humorous story to break up the tone of my posts. I wish I could do that, because I gain insight from humorous stories too. But, unfortunately, I’m not Erma Bombeck, or Mark Twain. I wish I were. I may at some point be able to craft a humorous story, but not today. Today I’m writing about how something I’ve been reading helped me understand something that happened that has been a puzzle until now.

Have you ever read a book or a story that affected you so deeply that you continued to think about it long after you finished the last page? I have several on my list. Many of them have made me laugh or cry. They certainly made me think. That’s why reading is dangerous.

When I get emotional while reading, I’m usually alone. Which is the way I prefer it. When you cry in public it makes everyone uncomfortable. This story is about what happened one day, when I was teaching English. I hadn’t thought about that incident for years until this morning.

I was reading the book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene’ Brown for my up coming book club meeting. In today’s section, Brene’ was relating an incident when she felt deep shame over a response to one of her blog posts, and how she dealt with it. (In case you don’t know about her, she researches the effects of shame on us and how vulnerability can lead us to wholehearted living.) While I was reading, I was reminded of this incident in my English class and thought I’d relate it to you.

The class was American Lit. We were reading the account of Olaudah Equiano, a slave who later bought his freedom to become an abolitionist in England. The section titled, “The Middle Passage”, describes his capture and trip across the Atlantic to one of the Caribbean islands. It’s a harrowing story, so much like the account in Roots, which made me stop reading the book for several days until I could recover enough to pick it up again. The slaves are whipped and crammed into tight quarters. The description of the callousness of the captors, the beatings, filth and stench were so real for me, that I was deeply affected. When I was reading it at home, I thought, I hope I can get through reading this in class without crying. Of course, I couldn’t.

My students were understandably concerned. I think it’s sad that crying in public is not okay.

The classroom became deadly silent. They didn’t know what to do with a teacher who was crying over a passage in the story.

One of the braver students asked me, “Miss, why are you crying?”

I had no idea what to say, but honesty seemed the best policy. “I’m crying because I feel bad about what happened to the slaves.”

“You mean, like you had something to do with it?”

“Yes, I guess. I feel bad that the whites treated the slaves so badly.”

“But, Miss, you weren’t there. You didn’t do it?”

“You’re right,” I said. “I still feel bad.” Then I wiped my eyes and blew my nose and we continued discussing the selection.

It’s important for you to know, that I was teaching in a school that has an over 90 percent population of Mexican/American students. The school is on a border town in Southern Arizona. Those students understand persecution. I don’t know if the fact that I’m white and I was crying about what happened to the slaves so long ago affected my students or not. I think it did. I hope it did.

I write about this incident because, I think it’s important to write about the good and the bad things about being human. Some of the biggest insights have come to me when I’m reading about a person or character’s greatest struggles. As a writer, though, it’s hard to dig down deep and write about those most painful feelings. At least it is for me. I can write about them all day in my journal, but if I know someone’s going to read them, well that’s a different matter. The thing is, that’s why I should dig down and write about the pain, because someone’s going to read it and gain insight. That’s what Olaudah Equiano did, that’s what Brene’ Brown does.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately. Reading Brene’ Brown’s book is just one aspect of the work. It’s helping me see that if we keep secret our wounded places, it can destroy us. On the other hand if we share them, we can help someone we don’t even know. Olaudah Equiano helped people understand what it was like to be captured, tortured, and transported to a far off place and be sold into slavery. His was one of the first slave stories. Many more came after. Who knows maybe his story touched enough people who saw how wrong slavery was and they started the Abolitionist movement.

I guess that’s why I read. Because I’m looking for insight into myself and into what it means to be human.That’s also why I write. It’s part of my process of healing and understanding.

What books or stories prompted you to think long after the reading was finished?

A Miracle, and What I Learned

Before you read my entry for today, I want to thank all of you who have liked and subscribed to my blog. I’m still learning the ins and outs of WordPress and have not figured out how to leave you personal messages. So, thank you all. I hope you enjoy today’s post.


Have you ever had something happen to you where all the dominos lined up and dropped in a perfect pattern? Something like that happened for me and my husband eighteen years ago. And I’m just now getting the lesson.


The first domino fell on my husband’s birthday. We’d been talking a great deal about taking an overseas trip to visit my sister and her husband who lived first in Taipei, Taiwan and then Tokyo. The thing is, though we’ve lived a comfortable life, we never had much surplus money, so we weren’t quite sure how we were going to be able to make the trip. All we had was the desire.


I know, some of you will say, “Why didn’t you just save the money for the trip.” And you’re right, but at that point in our lives, we lived pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck. That was okay with us. We saved enough money to buy small ticket items that we wanted or needed from time-to-time, but a trip to Japan? That was something different.


Then, in April 1995, we attended a Reiki retreat. At the event, we met a lovely young woman from Germany. She was headed to New Zealand a week after the retreat and needed a place to stay until the next leg of her trip. We offered her our small guest bedroom. Her visit changed our lives.


Every evening she regaled us with stories of her travels. Barry and I were envious. Each night we’d go to bed talking about traveling to visit friends in distant places. On the last night of her stay we were telling her about my sister and her family, and all the other people we’d met living in far off, but disparate places around the world. The first miracle occurred. She said, “Well, you can get an around the world trip ticket for about $3,000.00. That would make your trip affordable.”


$3,000.00 per ticket was a lot of money for us, but something about the matter of fact way she said it caused a shift in our consciousness. The trip was possible! Thinking it wasn’t possible is what had been holding us back.


The next day was Barry’s birthday. I’d planned a party for him at his workplace, Sophia Center. It was a spirituality center where women and men could go for healing, spiritual gifts, and support. Vivian and I stopped at the bank so she could exchange money for the next leg of her journey. While she was inside, I asked God, How can we pay for our trip? Immediately I heard the answer in my head, You could sell your house. As crazy as it sounds, I knew that was the answer, and we were supposed to do it. Vivian came out of the bank and without saying a word to her, I drove to Sophia Center. 


The party was fun, but I don’t remember much about it, because I couldn’t wait to tell Barry about my experience. Part of his birthday gift was a surprise trip to Lincoln City on the Oregon coast. It was an unusually bright sunny day in late May. Once we were out of the city, I brought up the subject of our trip. 


“I’ve thought of a way we can pay for our trip,” I said heart pounding. Would he like the idea?


“Oh, I’ve thought of a way too. I wonder if they’re the same,” He said. That was encouraging. 


“We could sell our house.”


“I was thinking the same thing,” he said and we looked at each other mouths open. What a miracle. We accepted it gratefully.


From that moment on, all we could do was make plans. Everything related to the trip fell into place with amazing ease. The first decision was, when to go. A year to prepare seemed like a good plan. We found a great realtor who was interested in us and not just in the money she could make helping us sell our house. We sold the house on the first open house for a great deal more than we paid for it. Someone told us about a fantastic travel agent. He helped us make plans and had great contacts to help us along the way should we need them. As it turned out we did, but that’s a story for another post. 


Almost everyone was encouraging and excited for us. Friends gave us the names of people in England, France, and Greece who would be contacts for us. We visited Vivian in Germany and another Reiki friend in The Netherlands. We had a college friend in Australia and Heather and John in Japan. The only place we were completely on our own was India. 


While making the preparations for our trip was easy, for the most part, so was the trip. Angels appeared at the most opportune times. Like the woman on the New York Subway who guided us in the right direction to our hotel, or the man in The Netherlands, who helped us find the right train at the transfer station, or the Greek hotel owner who gave us a discount on our room in Afitos, or our Sikh guide in Delhi. It’s almost impossible to express the growth we experienced as we traveled, met new people and experienced new cultures. 


Yet there is more that I’ve learned just now, eighteen years later. It’s this: For most of my life, I’ve blocked the good things that could come easily if I allowed it. I thought I didn’t deserve them. “Only you can deprive yourself of anything,” it says in A Course in Miracles. One big thing I didn’t deprive myself of was a trip around the world. I’m excited about all the other wonderful things that can happen to me if I allow them to come.


Letting go of Perfectionism

The common wisdom for writers is to have a blog to build their audience. However, I’m an introvert, so, I resisted that for a long time. I didn’t want to broadcast my mistakes, failures and inner thoughts. Then I turned 60. Something shifted in my inner world and I felt better about sharing my experiences in a blog. I guess it was a convergence of many different factors that made me say “yes” to being more open.


I think I’m like many of you, I tried to look and act cool all the time. I hated it when I made mistakes. As I got older, being perfect didn’t matter as much any more.  For one thing my body didn’t look as perfect. And I’ve been going through a “getting rid of” process. Some of that is getting rid of physical possessions, but most of it is getting rid of old ideas that don’t fit any more. One day I realized that I don’t have to be perfect and neither does my writing. Here’s how it happened.


Last semester, I directed the Young Performer’s Edition of The Wizard of Oz. It was a joint project, between the college where I teach part-time and a local Elementary school. I was asked to advise the Music instructor, who’d proposed the project. I soon discovered that I was the expert. I had the Masters degree in theatre and had directed many plays. One day after auditions, I had a big melt down. The project had snowballed. Almost all the teachers and students wanted to be involved in the play. We ended up with 200 plus elementary students in the cast. 


Fear gripped me. I was sure I couldn’t do it. The project was too huge and was going to be a failure. After screaming about it to my husband and brother-in-law, my reason returned and I felt a great calm come over me. The parents are going to think it’s great, even if we just have the kids stand there and sing and say the lines. 


My little voice was right. The production turned out much better than I thought. The Music Director and I got lots of help. Our Department Chair is a dancer, she took over the choreography for the big dance number.  The teachers, parents, Principal and Superintendent, offered help with making props and costumes and filling acting roles where we needed them. I even found help in unexpected places from people not connected to the school. We devised a way to change from one scene to the next so that the play flowed almost seamlessly. The principal characters, who were a mixture of college and fourth grade students, did a magnificent job. Both nights we had large audiences who gave us nothing but praise for the production.


When I asked my husband what he really thought of the production, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t call it theatre, but the kids did a great job and it flowed well.” What a great compliment. It wasn’t perfect, but the parents, students, and teachers thought it was great. Not only that, members of the community not connected to the school in any way came to see it. The play was the talk of the town.


After that experience, I realized that nothing I do is going to be perfect. When I finish my novel, it’s not going to be perfect. This blog won’t be perfect. Someone may benefit from my work no matter it’s flaws. All of sudden all those years of worrying about being perfect in everything I did seemed like a waste of time. 


Not only that, what I learned was that I wasn’t afraid of messing up. What I was afraid of was being a success. When I put my work on display, people have opinions about it. It’s tough to hear the criticism. Unless, I don’t expect to be perfect.  


My philosophy is now this: Do the best I can and then send my work out into the world.  What another person says about my work has nothing to do with me. It has to do with their life situation. Once the work is completed and out in the world, let it go and move on to the next creative project. 


I finally understand the meaning of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson, from her book A Return to Love. I hope you get it too and share your talents. We need them.


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The children and adults in The Wizard of Oz shone, because they wanted to do something big, something they’d never tried before. And their efforts and mine were a big imperfect success.

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