When I look in the mirror…

This is from a writing prompt I did in a writing workshop a few months ago. The prompt was, “When I look in the mirror…”

When I look in the mirror I see an artist. Those are ten simple words but it’s taken me over 40 years to write them and feel confident that they’re true.

When I was a child, I loved to draw and make up jokes to make my parents laugh. We moved around a lot because my dad was in the military and when we were finally a big enough family to merit housing with a garage, we were in Southern California, where thankfully no one uses garages for cars and I would delight in recruiting my brothers and our friends to perform plays and reenactments using the garage as our makeshift theater. I would write and direct the plays, create the playbills, act in the plays, even make snacks for the “concession stand.”

In elementary school I lived for the annual school play. I was crushed when I didn’t get the lead in the fourth grade play – a spaghetti western about a cowboy named Jones. I still remember the theme song, “Along Came Jones.” Because I knew how to play piano, I was cast in a small role as Miss Kitty, the owner of the local Saloon, and when Jones said “Hit it, Miss Kitty” I had to play the Scott Joplin rag, “The Entertainer.” I don’t even think I had a line; I just winked back at him and played the piano.

I exacted my revenge for this crushing miscasting by spending the next summer writing a play to be performed for our 5th grade year. It was a study in what aliens would think about Earth if they landed in Camp Pendleton, CA and only learned about our society from watching television commercials. I guess it was actually funny because my teacher, Miss Bobo, agreed to let us perform it. 

I had to write out the script because I didn’t know how to type, and then make copies using that carbon copy paper and I can’t remember what it’s called now because it was 1977 and we’re so beyond that archaic method of copying. I loved every minute of putting on this production – the staging, the directing, the coaching, wondering which jokes would land and which needed to be juiced up a bit.

My parents were lukewarm about my enthusiasm for art and performing. I could sense their disapproval in the way that they talked about famous actors…”Oh, he was so entertaining in that movie, too bad he’s as queer as a three-dollar bill.” Wanting to please my parents, I started thinking about other careers. I loved animals, so one night at a family dinner I announced (to my parents’ delight) that I was thinking about becoming a veterinarian, which meant I would need to go to medical school (much better than scandalizing the family by becoming an actress).

Within a week, my parents bought me a copy of Grey’s Anatomy. I think they were so thankful that I had apparently moved on from the ridiculous idea of becoming an actress that they neglected to actually look in the book and realize that the huge tome of medical information also included diagrams of reproductive organs, a verboten topic in our catholic family. This was a major score for an 11 year old. Finally, I got to see a decent drawing of a penis. And a vagina, for that matter. I so had the fear of God drilled into me about sex that I had never looked at my own genitalia in a mirror because I couldn’t bear the thought of telling a priest about it in confession. It never occurred to me to just not say anything.

High School came and my main activity, other than school work, was drama. I was drawn to the theater. I felt at home on stage and behind it. I loved the teamwork involved in putting on the show and the creativity and the service to the audience. My parents and I had some tense conversations about my college and career choices. I wanted to study acting and art, but my parents pressured me to study something else, anything else. I had grown up hearing about how artists were weird, were perverts, were people who weren’t skilled at anything else useful to society and so they do art. Don’t think you’ll ever get rich by being an actress, my parents constantly reminded me. All my childhood I heard that being an artist would set me up for failure in life. When I went to college, I took the road my parents wanted me to travel because they convinced me that the path I wanted with lead to sadness and poverty and nude photos that would destroy any artistic career I could cobble together in the first place. I had been told my whole childhood that being an artist was bad, so when I looked in the mirror, I told myself you’re too good of a person to be an artist.

And yet the artist inside me wouldn’t go away. I did some community theater after college. In the navy I made music videos for my squadron. I started painting 7 years ago and I make time to write. I started accepting that just because my path created a successful business career, it doesn’t mean I can’t create, in bits and pieces. I look forward to the future, in a few years, when my kids are grown up and I can move someplace less expensive and take a lower-paying job, and I’ll change my LinkedIn profile to only say “Artist.”

Life lessons from yoga

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One of my goals for 2017 is to establish a more regular yoga practice (along with a more regular writing practice – so far, so good!).

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for six years. My first yoga class was in grad school, 15 years ago. I had held the typical military sterotype of yoga that it was too “soft and squishy” of a workout, and I thought I’d be chanting instead of working up a sweat (which is my qualification of a good workout). But a friend of mine convinced me to go to a yoga class he had taken and he promised it would be a great workout.

He was right; it was an ashtanga class. For the unfamiliar, ashtanga is hindi for “ass kicking.” Just kidding, but I loved that it was a serious workout. I wasn’t intimidated by the super yogis in the class who could bend themselves in ways I didn’t think possible. Instead, I focused on what I could do that day. I began going to the ashtanga class fairly regularly, as many times as I could on my grad student budget.I loved the muscles I was starting to feel on my shoulders and abs.

Then I moved to California, got pregnant, and stopped practicing yoga. The demands of raising two small children, running a house and managing full-time jobs in tech took up all of my time and fitness fell to the side.

Fast forward eight years to 2010. I was super stressed out at work and my marriage was falling apart. I needed to do something, anything to find some inner peace. I remembered a few co-workers from a previous job who were really into bikram yoga and had recommended it. “Bikram” is hindi for “hot and smelly feet.” Just kidding, but it is conducted in a heated room, which, if not cleaned properly, can get pretty darn stinky. It’s a series of 26 poses, each done twice, first for a minute and then for 30 seconds. The whole series takes 90 minutes, and by the end, you are drenched in sweat and feeling pretty wiped. My kind of workout.

Over the past six years, I’ve improved my flexibility and strength. I progressed to power yoga, which involves inversions and balances – a new challenge for me. One pose in particular had been my nemesis for a long time: bakasana, or crow pose. It’s a balance on ones’ arms, using arm and core strength. I could put my knees on the backs of my upper arms, lean forward and lift one foot off the ground, but I was afraid to lift the other foot because I was sure I would fall forward on my face.

I spent months in class balancing on one toe, so afraid to let that toe leave the ground. See, I’ve never been able to do a pull up. I’ve never had great upper-body strength, so I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be able to do anything that requires it. But bakasana requires not just physical strength, but mental power.

I finally got tired of not trying and one day, decided to lift up that toe. I balanced for two seconds and then my toes came back down. It was super short, but it was air time and I held the balance for those two seconds.  I was elated; in all those years I’d always leave that one big toe on the floor to balance and support myself. I’d never trusted myself enough to do the full pose. I’d always think, “What if I fall on my face?” and finally I thought, “What if I DON’T fall? What if I can rock this pose and I’ve been wasting all this time doubting myself?” So I did it.

 

The lesson for me? I’m stronger than I realize. And who cares if I fall? I will keep trying, and get stronger, and balance longer.

Yes, sometimes I wipe out:

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but I just don’t GAF about that anymore. Because I’ll get back up and try again. I know I can do it now.

Amélie

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Yesterday, for New Years, the Facebook page for the movie Amélie posted a video of the scene where Amélie anonymously reconnects Bretodeau with his childhood treasure box. Upon seeing his emotional reaction, she decides to devote her life to helping the people around her. The quote with the post was, “New Year’s Resolution Amélie style – change the lives of those around you for the better.”

It’s one of my favorite scenes from the movie, and Amélie is one of my all-time favorite movies. It brings me to tears every time I watch it. I love the beautiful piano soundtrack, the scenery (Paris-sigh!), the characters’ quirkiness, the editing, the cinematography…I could go on and on.

My favorite scene is towards the end, when she’s in the kitchen, fantasizing that her love is about to surprise her. She imagines him sneaking in, and gently rustling the beaded entrance to her kitchen, when suddenly, she actually hears the beads rustle, so she turns around but it’s only the cat. She begins to cry, feeling devastated and sad, thinking that love is just a fantasy for her and it won’t happen. And then she hears her door buzzer – her love really has come for her.

I adore that scene because it reminds me to not give up on finding love. I am hopeful that my love will gently rustle those beads and my dream of finding my partner will come true. Until then, I’ll be baking in the kitchen, singing along to my Awesome 80s Songs playlist on Spotify.

 

Choose wisely in 2017

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I’m reading a book called Presence, by Amy Cuddy – a gift from my manager (thanks, Giselle!). I was inspired by reading about Cuddy’s discussion of power. I used to think of power in the same way I thought about sales…in a negative way. I felt that power was only sought by those who wanted it in order to dominate or take advantage of others. Her book helped me realize that what I used to think of as power is social power, but there’s an inner version, called personal power, that is about self-confidence. Personal power is limitless, unlike social power, which is gained at the expense of others.

If you think of power as being binary, then not feeling powerful means you feel powerless. Cuddy discusses how the feeling of powerlessness causes people to physically withdraw. She cites several studies about subjects who physically collapse into themselves when they don’t feel like they have any power, vs. powerful people, who stand tall, with their chins lifted and chests puffed out.

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I’ve had too many moments this past year of feeling powerless. I’ve felt socially withdrawn. I was often quieter than I should be at work and chalked it up to being new in my role. I know that powerlessness is not doing me any favors.

I’ve also had moments when I felt more powerful than I have ever felt before. I’m at a new company in a job that I absolutely love and that I’m great at. I love my team and they inspire me to be the best manager possible. My kids are healthy and happy. I bought a home all by myself thanks to years of working hard and saving money (and a fairy godmother of a real estate agent who found an awesome property off-market). I’m healthy. I am so fortunate and I fully appreciate that. Yet sometimes, I still let fear creep in. I don’t let it stay for long, and I am much better at recognizing it when it approaches. As much as I can, I choose to push past the fear.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about choices, especially the choices in how I live my life. Last month at work, I wrote a vision statement for 2017 to delineate what I want to accomplish over the next 12 months. It was helpful because it gave me a reality check about how much I can actually do in that time period, and I had to prioritize what was most important for me to accomplish in 2017. I’ve come to realize that I feel better and more productive, accomplished, etc. when I schedule my time and make a plan. And what better time to make a plan than on January 1st?

Many times last year, I’d think about getting up early and practicing yoga or going to the gym, but then I’d stay up too late, looking at social media or reading, and then when the alarm went off at 6am, it was too easy to hit snooze. This year, I’m going to get to bed by 10am so I have a little buffer for reading (but not online!) and I know (through months of sleep tracking) that I need 6.5-7.5 hours of sleep a night. So, if I can get to sleep by 10:30pm, I can get up at 5:30am and feel rested. My body naturally wakes early, often before my alarm goes off, so now I just need that impetus to get out of bed. I need to choose to get out of bed rather than going back to sleep. I will help myself make that choice by putting my alarm on the other side of my bedroom. 🙂

I feel motivated to get it right this year. I’m celebrating a milestone birthday and so I’m re-evaluating how I’m living my life.  I’m pretty happy overall, but I do feel like I could be doing more, especially more for others. Last year, I made too many excuses for myself, instead of realizing the power I have to make better choices. In 2017, I’m going to kick some vision statement ass.

Here’s what I’ll be writing on December 31, 2017:

Work
My team continued to have great impact. We ended the year with a new Help Center, where customers can go to easily get information about our products, find support and become more successful. Our new support experience has been recognized externally and the team has been invited to speak at industry conferences.
We deflected a record number of cases from 1:1 teams and are considered a strong partner to our sales and support teams. We’ve delivered many insights to our product and marketing partners, who also view us as a valuable feedback mechanism, and we’re included in more upstream conversations. The team is happy and feeling fulfilled.
I am leading leadership development training for women at our company and continue to coach co-workers.
I am considered a leader in our company and a valued contributor to my org’s leadership team.
I visited our remote teams once a quarter to help them feel supported and connected.

Family
My kids are now both teenagers! We took a fun family vacation together to Europe and a couple of long weekend trips to Carmel and Hawaii. During the weeks they’re with me, I am able to leave the office in time to pick them up from school and we cook dinner together a couple of times a week.
We welcomed a dog into our family.
I finally met the partner I’d hoped for and we are building a life together. He’s appreciative of all the thoughtful things I do for him, and he delights in and encourages my personal growth.

Friends
I’ve been able to finish furnishing and decorating my house and have hosted get-togethers for my friends.
We did a get-away together trip and celebrated our friendship. And of course, we went to several concerts together this summer. My friends helped me ring in my milestone birthday this year and I am grateful to have them in my life.

Community
I continued my involvement in veteran support groups and helped host a VetsinTech hackathon at my company.
I volunteered at my kids’ schools.

Me
I continued my hobbies in 2017 but stretched myself a little more this year.
Painting: I set up my art studio and completed 20 paintings, enough to sign up for Open Studios in 2018. I have posted my paintings to my art website, encaustech.com, and have sold a few. I’ve begun talking with my company about doing an encaustic installation on one of the walls at work.
Design: I completed a web development course and was able to use what I learned to redesign encaustech.com, which I am now using to both exhibit and sell my artwork.
Writing: Speaking of blogs, I am regularly posting on rendipi.com and stretching my writing muscles. I signed up for the 500words a day challenge and I finally completed the first draft of my first novel.
Music: I continued my guitar lessons and sang at an open mic night.
Fitness: I got serious about yoga and am practicing at least 3X a week. In 2018, I will get my 200-hour teaching certificate and will start volunteering to teach yoga at the VA (both are stretch goals for 2017).
Travel: I enjoyed a solo vacation and visited some places I’ve never been to (Montreal, Vancouver, Prague, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Costa Rica are candidates)
Half-year bonus goal: If I’m progressing well on my vision statement by the end of June, I will get current in a Cessna 172 so I can take my kids and friends flying.

Hope

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I saw the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One, this past Tuesday. I loved it and felt it stood on its own as great entertainment, and even better as the prologue to Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope. I felt all tingly when I saw the X-wing Starfighters onscreen. I remember watching the original Star Wars movie in theaters in 1977 and thinking the X-wings were the coolest things ever. That was probably my first exposure to “aviation” (is there a space version of that term? Spaciation?) and it certainly planted the seeds for my career as a pilot.

The movie also struck me in a different, non-nostalgic way. In the last scene of Rogue One, a CGI-enhanced Princess Leia receives the plans for the Death Star, thanks to the sacrifices of the rebellion:
Captain Raymus Antilles: [after handing Princess Leia the Death Star schematics] What is it they’ve sent us?
Princess Leia Organa: Hope.

I choked up at this scene – Carrie Fisher had died that morning. I felt like she was speaking directly to me through the completely coincidental timing of my viewing of this scene.

Let me back up…I’ve been recovering from a broken heart…from repeated heartbreak at the hands of someone I was deeply in love with but who had strung me along, who wouldn’t commit to a monogamous relationship with me. I’d been feeling down lately; wondering if I’ll ever find a similarly deep connection with another person, if I will be able to trust someone with my heart again. And then, unexpectedly, this scene in Rogue One reminded me about Hope.

Hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” For a long time, I had hoped my former love would choose to build a life with me. He gave me every expectation that it would happen…”eventually.” He asked me to respect “his process” and give him time.  I certainly desired a partnership with him, and I thought he wanted one with me, too. He told me he had never loved a woman as much as he loved me, but after years of waiting for him to choose a life with me, I realized those were just words, and the love I had hoped for with him was never going to happen, even though he would tell me he loved me “always.”

For a while, I made the mistake of giving up hope on finding love, not just with this one person, but with any partner. I didn’t think I could ever be so lucky again. But fortunately, by getting back on the dating circuit and some pep talks from friends and family, I’m feeling better. I’d like to believe the scene with Princess Leia was another nudge from the Universe to not give up. I find inspiration in many places, from Instagram to music to art. All these serendipitous reminders help to convince me that hope is not lost.  I know that I will find love again, and this time with someone who is ready to be loved and treasured. I have hope, and I’m happy to live with that until I have love.

 

Writing Habit, Week 4

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Day 16: Write an ode to something ordinary. 

Ode to Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil

I didn’t realize your sublime utility
Until the first time I happened to tear a piece of you that fit over my baking sheet
And realized the thickness of your foil meant complete protection,
Saving me from having to clean one more pan and therefore
Offering me the oh-so precious gift
Of more time to spend with my family.

My dear aluminum foil, you are here to serve.
Whether I’m roasting vegetables, or making cookies, or submitting you to the greasy orgy of baking bacon,
You stay strong, and whole, and never complain.

Sometimes, like when I enlist you to cover a pan for pizza, your duty is extended
And after the kids have eaten half of the pie, you swaddle yourself around the leftovers
And keep them safe and contained for their school lunch the next day.

Usually, though, I crumple you up when the dish is done
And send you to your resting place in the recycling bin
So someday you can serve again.

Day 17: Something overheard.  I was supposed to eavesdrop on a conversation and use it as a writing prompt, but since I write first thing in the morning, usually around 5:30-6am, I passed on this one.

Day 18: Inspiration: Ernest Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants
Write a scene in which two characters want different things, letting their desires come across through dialogue.

“It’s good to see you,” he said, placing his hands on the table, close enough where he could reach out and touch her, but not doing so.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s been a while. I like the color of that shirt on you.”

“Oh, thanks,” he said, looking down at the mauve pullover. He looked back up and smiled. “How are things with Kevin?”

“Good. I like him a lot. It’s funny to be with him; he talks a lot. He helps to get me out of my shell.”

The waiter placed two glasses of water in front of them and paused slightly in case they were ready to order, but they didn’t look at him.

“So does this thing with Kevin have legs?”

“It’s too soon to know. I’m not sure.”

She glanced at the menu. “Do you want to split something?”

“I’m really hungry. Let’s order a few different rolls. Anything you want?”

“Ah, I’m good with almost anything, just nothing too chewy. I had a filling put in today. So, how are you?”

“Great! I just closed on the house. It was a crazy hassle to finalize the loan but it pulled through at the last minute.”

“That’s wonderful. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. It’s so peaceful there. And so much space! Plenty of room for you and your kids. I have a dream of you living there with me one day.”

“It looks beautiful,” she said, glancing at the photo on his iPad of trees and open spaces and brick walkways. The waiter stopped and took their order of two Rainbow rolls, one salmon roll, one spicy tuna roll and two orders of unagi.

She picked up a pod of edamame and popped the end into her mouth, squeezed the soy bean out and gently chewed it then swallowed.

“And what about you? Are you dating anyone?”

“Yes. Three women.”

“Oh.”

“I think it’s good for me to help me really know what I want.”

“I’m surprised to hear that. I thought that what you want was…me.”

Day 19: Write a story backwards.  Lead with the thing that happens. Use “Before that” to launch every paragraph as you write your way back to the story’s natural beginning.

Lainie scooped up the last mound of vanilla ice cream from the bowl her mother had given her. She let the sweet taste swirl around her mouth and down her throat as she swallowed. Feeling empowered, she asked, “Mommy, can I please have a little more?”

Before that, she rested the heavy white cast on top of the pillow next to her. It smelled sour and the top of it, under her arm, was digging into the soft flesh under her bicep.

Before that, the nice doctor laid the clammy, cold strips on her arm and told her she’d be feeling better soon.

Before that, she lay crumpled and crying on the sidewalk, her wrist tender and painful, and her legs bruised from her tricycle landing on top of her.

Before that, she paused, at the top of a short hill in the neighborhood, to take in the view. “This is what the world must look like to grown-ups,” she thought, as she felt the tricycle starting to move away underneath her.

Before that, her parents were fighting, and she couldn’t bear to hear them being so mean to each other, so she ran out of the house, jumped on her tricycle and pedaled hard, far away from that scary place where people who were supposed to love each other turned into monsters.

Before that, it was a bright morning, and Lainie lay in bed, hugging her teddy bear, wondering if Mommy and Daddy would take her to the park.

Day 20: Walnut, eyelash, curtain, bottle, scab: Write a piece that includes all five of these.

There was always a curtain between us.
You peeked out from it from time to time but then hid again.
I’d reach out and feel the shape of your face through the fabric
But you couldn’t feel the warmth of my caress.

I remember the times I’d watch you sleep
And count the smile lines that frame your eyes
And the eyelashes that would flutter while you dreamed
Translating your beauty into a sum of numbers that in the end added up to nothing.

Our love was so simple at first.
Smooth like the shell of a walnut, hiding the knotty nut underneath that emerged with time
Complicated and fascinating upon closer inspection
Maddening to contemplate how we got to this place.

I can’t continue to bottle up my feelings for you.
You told me I was the love you had always hoped for but had given up on finding.
I wish I could let you go but the connection we had was so intense that it lingers on
But then I remember to consider what you’ve done rather than what you’ve said

The years you made me wait pierced my heart over and over, leaving it raw and skeptical
Friends, family, time, other lovers…they’ve helped me build a protective scab over the wound you made
So my heart could heal and love again
But you keep coming back, with your words, your long gazes
And gently pick the scab away.

Writing Habit, Week 3

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This was a tough week at work, so I only managed to write two pieces, neither of which I’m thrilled with, but it’s better than nothing.

Day Eleven: Write a defining moment from childhood. I used this prompt to write for my novel.

Something was up. Mr. Pellett was not his normal effervescent self as we walked into the classroom. I had seen his temper flare before, but had never seen him sad. Or, “off.” He was sitting at his desk, looking down at the Honolulu Advertiser, maybe working on the crossword puzzle? But he did not look up once or greet us as we entered.

Some girls were deep into the conversations that had started by the lockers about the latest drama from the weekend’s school dance, and didn’t immediately notice his subdued demeanor, but I did. Moving around had taught me to be a keen observer of human behavior. It enabled me to adapt the local norms and fit in faster.

As we took our seats, I noticed the A/V cart at the front of the room, and understood that today would not be one of Mr. Pellett’s fine performances. He had brought in a recorded understudy. I pulled out my notebook and a pen and listened to the transition in the room, as my fellow students started quieting down, noticing his unusually calm demeanor. The discussions tapered off and we all sat in silence, pens at the ready, wondering what the hell was wrong with Mr. Pellett.

“We’re going to do something a little different today,” he said softly, never looking up from the paper. “Katherine, please play the tape.”

I rose from my seat, wondering if there was some teaching trick behind this, but he continued to look down at his paper as I pressed the play button on the VHS player.  I noticed the tape case: “Hamlet.” Ugh, I thought. I wasn’t sure what we had done to piss off Mr. Pellett last week that he would still be mad enough at us today to make us watch Shakespeare, and I started replaying last Friday’s class in my mind as the actor on the television started talking. I took my seat.

The actor (I assumed it was the name on the case, Derek Jacobi. I had no idea who he was) walked slowly, clearly thinking about something. He began the famous, “To be, or not to be” soliloquy that I had read for class and had heard of, but had never seen performed. Why would I watch Shakespeare when it was much more entertaining to watch Magnum PI? Plus, there were real life lessons from Magnum.

This was different, though. This was acting like I had never seen acting. This wasn’t recitation, like the way I had read Shakespeare in my mind; Mr. Jacobi was Hamlet. I could feel his struggle as he considered the pros and cons of life. I recognized the lines from the soliloquy, yet had never imagined they could be delivered with such authenticity and passion. I was entranced. He made it real. I finally understood all the fuss about Shakespeare. And then it hit me…the school plays I had been in, how I always wanted to read the parts with the most lines in class (I would quickly skim and see which name was mentioned most in a script), the way I could quickly pick up accents and behaviors from moving around so much…I was meant to be an actress. I had found my calling.

Day Twelve and Thirteen: nope.

Day Fourteen:Edible Memories  Write about a memory inspired by something you ate or cooked, good or bad.

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We fell in love over coffee.

I’d walk briskly from my car, through the cold, crisp morning air and open the double door to the coffeehouse, inhaling the wall of warm air that enveloped me in the heavy, sweet smells of roasting coffee. The deep red colors of the walls inspired passion, for both coffee and the handsome gentleman waiting for me at the counter, eyes smiling as soon as he caught sight of me through the window, emerging from my car.

We’d order our drinks together… a latté for me, a cappuccino for him (that he’d always pronounce “Cup”ooccino) and wait, standing next to each other, unable to separate ourselves from each other, always some part of our bodies touching as I’d lean in to him, breathing in his scent mixed with the rich coffee scent of espresso.

We’d sit so close I was almost in his lap, touching legs under the table, rubbing our feet together. When my hands weren’t surrounded by his, they’d gently warm themselves on the sides of my hot latté as the bitter, chocolaty aroma floated up to my nostrils and I closed my eyes and savored the scent and the warmth of his foot, caressing my calf. I’d take a sip of the bittersweet elixir, topped with chocolate sprinkles (his magic touch) and smile as the warm rich liquid flowed over my tongue and down my throat, intensifying the heat that my lover had ignited within. I’d yearn to taste the coffee on his lips, and we’d allow our magnetism to draw our heads together and touch our lips together, gently exploring the taste of coffee on each other’s tongue.

Sadly, the passion of our coffee encounters wasn’t enough to sustain our love outside the walls of the coffeehouse and we drifted apart, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a daily cup of joe and thinking back every now and then to those mornings of soft kisses and deep conversations. One inhale of those rich, spicy beans from our favorite coffeehouse, and I am transported back to that time of anticipation, pleasure and love.

Day Fifteen: What if no.

Hope to re-motivate next week.

Writing Habit, Week 2

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Day Six: Using a tabloid headline for a prompt. This was a fun exercise, as we were encouraged to try poetry.

Alien Bible Found, They Worship Oprah

Here on planet KNBC we wondered if we were alone.
We sent multiple probes into outer space, searching for extraterrestrial life.
We need search no more,
For we have found proof of intelligent life, in the form of a lone bible, floating in space.
Our scientists and linguists examined the tome and here is what we know:
The inhabitants of planet Earth worship a being named Oprah.
Who can shape-shift from thin to fat.
She gives cars to the poor and wealthy, important people seek an audience with her.
Millions listen to her every day and make pilgrimages to Chicago to see her in person.
They shriek and cry when she touches them. One man jumped up and down on a couch.
If you would like to hear more about this incredible discovery,
Make sure to tune in at 3pm today to The Jesus Show.

Day Seven: More poetry, this time inspired by an amazing poem, “Bringing My Son To The Police Station To Be Fingerprinted,” by Shoshauna Shy. The goal is to write a poem where the title says everything, and the content of the poem seems to be totally unrelated except for one line pointing back to the title.

Being Bulimic

The chewy caramel mixed with crispy rice
And covered in fudge delights my tongue.
I switch to an oatmeal creme pie,
Soft, chewy cookies surrounding
A smooth, sweet layer of pleasure.
I crave more crunch so I begin eating
Wafer bars layered with peanut butter
And smothered with more fudge, of course.
I dislike the dark color
When it comes back up as amorphous sludge
But for now, it’s the icing on my heaven.

Day Eight: “Playing against expectations”: We watched this video and then were asked to write a character based on it.

Smash and stroll

Everyone in Rockport knew of Sylvia James.
The tall, lithesome beauty with cornsilk hair and
Lagoon eyes that would seize young men, who would do
Anything. To. Have. Her.
But she wouldn’t have them. Not for long, anyway.
She’d dote on one, stroke his arm, spend a few weeks at his side,
And right when everyone was thinking how lucky he was
To have attracted such beauty,
She’d drop out of sight, and reappear on the arm of another,
Leaving a trail of broken hearts, lined up at the local watering hole,
Wondering how they’d fallen short. Spilling their souls to the grizzled woman tending bar
Who’d pour another drink for them and think,
“Eat it up, Sylvia. While you can.”

Day Nine: no writing

Day Ten: Animals as inspirations, specifically, “Animals,” by Miller Williams. Think back to when things were different. There was an animal then. Use that animal, perhaps a pet, perhaps not, guide you back in time and shape your free write.

You were always so good with dogs,
because you liked control.
We had two labrador retrievers then.
Labs were your favorite.
You appreciated their devotion and willingness to endlessly
chase after the balls you threw for them.

I began to depend on their unconditional love,
their big brown eyes fixed on mine,
stroking their velvet ears as they listened so intently to what I had to say
when you wouldn’t.

Your dog died first.
Six months later, we had to put mine to sleep, and we chose to do so in our living room.
You held his head in your lap, stroking his soft, grey muzzle as I sheepishly pet his back, dumbfounded in grief and not realizing
you had stolen my last chance to comfort him as we sent him on his final chase.

That was the beginning of our end.

Back in the Saddle. Week 1.

I’m taking an online writing course to help me create a daily writing habit. Each day, we read a short poem or piece of writing that is used as an inspirational writing prompt.

Here’s Week One’s output.

Day One: Ten questions, biographical or in character. I chose the main character from a novel I am writing about a girl whose family relocated to Hawaii in the mid-80’s.

1. When I was ten years old, I thought that I’d grow up to be a veterinarian. I loved animals and always wanted a pet, but we move around a lot because my dad is in the Marine Corps, so my parents won’t let me have a dog or cat or any pet, although I usually adopt some local creature as my own whenever I can. During second grade, I went on a camping trip with my scout group and found a huge snail, so I smuggled it home and kept it on my windowsill. I’d steal pieces of lettuce from my dinner plate and feed it. I didn’t think it would move mooch but the next day when I cam home from school, the snail was gone. I like to think it crawled down the wall of our apartment building and I rationalized its absence as that rather than it being plucked from the windowsill by a bird.

2. Instead I grew up to be …well, I’m not quite grown up yet in the sense of graduating college, getting a job and all that grown up kind of stuff. I am working at our local pizza parlor, if that counts, but I’d like to think I will advance beyond food prep work.

3. The worst thing I ever did was in 5th grade when I told one of the girls in my neighborhood about where babies come from. She was only 8 years old at the time but I had just had “the talk” at school and she asked, so I gave it to her straight. I liked feeling like I knew something special and I didn’t want to seem like a snob with my newfound knowledge, so I described the mechanics of the act. The next day, when I cam home from school, I saw The Look on my mother’s face. Apparently my description of sex had completely freaked out the girl and she hadn’t slept most of the night. I had to go over to her house and apologize to her and her mother. I was mortified.

4. I used to think the Bible was true, but every since my experience at my Catholic high school now I believe it’s just an epic novel.

5. The accomplishment that I am the most proud of is beating Claudia Elden in the 1981 spelling bee. Echinacea. What the hell?

6. If I could have a superpower, it would be the ability to know if someone is lying.

7. In my purse/bag, I always carry a brush. Damn irish genes.

8. One thing I’ve never told anyone about is that last summer, I went on one of those amusement park rides with a dark tunnel and I kissed my cousin. With tongue.

9. I typically express my creativity by decorating my room and drawing. I also really enjoy acting. I get a lot of practice every time my family moves and I have to show up at a new school and make friends.

10. If I were to run away, I would take my Sony walkman and stow away in an airplane and go back to the mainland. But I would never do that.

Day Two: Bullet to the Brain, inspiration from “Bullet In The Brain,” by Tobias Wolff

She didn’t remember the slamming of metal onto metal and how her body was thrown violently against the harness straps of her ejection seat when the jet she flew stopped cold in 60 feet on the aircraft carrier. She didn’t remember the deep feelings of loss when friends were plucked from existence, seen one morning before a mission but never to return. The birthdays, Christmases, Easter baskets, summer BBQs…none came to mind as the bullet pierced her skull. She didn’t recall graduations, First Communion, confirmation, her wedding, the final signing of her divorce papers…no rites of passage in her life which at the time had felt heavy and electric.

She remembered sweat and pressure and pain and the overwhelming desire to push a baby out of her body. She remembered her first: stuck in the canal, hesitant to emerge. She thought he would never come out, and when he finally was suctioned free, she saw his gray pallor and held him for a second before he was whisked away by nurses to be resuscitated. She remembered her second, a girl, who gave her a damnned difficult pregnancy but popped out with three pushes. Her daughter was pink, warm, soft and sweet. She remembered holding her for the first time, and as the bullet completed its path and introduced her to her mortality, she remembered that she had brought life into this world and would never truly leave it.

Day Three: Obsessions/Complusions. Inspiration from A Plague of Tics, by David Sedaris

I can’t buy it anymore. I think that I’ll be able to moderate my consumption, but if there is a jar of Nutella in my house, it will not last more than a day. Despite earnest attempts at willpower, I simply cannot resist. Maybe it’s because it tastes so damn good on just about everything. You can spread it on bland delivery devices like bread or crackers. Dipping something salty like a pretzel yields nirvana. A spoonful on a scoop of vanilla ice cream elevates the dessert to divine. Jamming a spoon into the jar and pulling away a glob works fine, too, until you find yourself with the very last traces, wondering how the creators of this magical creme could design a jar that does not enable you to scrape out the remnants and you are forced to test whether or not your tongue is long enough to lick the sides. I have learned my lesson and accepted that I must refrain from purchasing the jars I see at the grocery store and deny myself the pleasures of Nutella, lest my jeans start straining from the rapid consumption of 2,000 calories. And don’t get me started about those assholes at CostCo, with their 2-pack of 33.5 oz jars of my Kryptonite. They mock my pain.

Day Four: Pillow Book. Inspiration from the The Pillow Book of Lady Sei Shonagon, an observational notebook written over 1,000 years ago.

Annoying things

Being awakened from a deep, comfortable warm sleep by the jagged, blaring bleats of one’s alarm clock.
The reckless driver who speeds through a parking lot of stationary cars and exposed people.
The distracted driver who plods along in the left lane of the highway, drifting sporadically towards the slower lane but never pulling into it.

Wonderful things
Sliding the USB cable into a port with the correct side up so it easily engages and you don’t have to flip it over and try again.
The first bite of a warm, sugary malasada…slightly crispy on the outside but doughy and soft on the inside.
The moment when your daughter spots you in the crowd of parantparazzi at the school band concert and knows you made the effort to be there to support her.
When your young children wrap their chubby little arms around your neck and hold on to you like they’ll never let you go.

Day Five: was a long week at work and I punted this assignment.

The Recital

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First Guitar Recital

My daughter had her first recital this weekend. What started as a total disaster ended up being a moving experience. I had no idea what to expect of a two-hour recital of children playing guitar, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable live music experiences I’ve ever had.

First, the recital (near) disaster of 2013.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from her music school with information about the recital, such as time, location….and dress code. Suggested dress code was semi-formal/formal, so last week I took her shopping for a black blouse and pants. She did not want to wear a dress or skirt and was not happy about being forced to dress up in anything.

Fast forward to the recital. She was with her dad last weekend, so he arrived early with her and I showed up about 15 minutes prior to the start time. As soon as she saw me enter the building, she stormed up to me and announced with exasperation that she was the ONLY one dressed up. I peeked inside the concert hall and indeed, every single other kid holding a guitar was dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Wtf?

I showed Julia the email but that didn’t help. She was starting to panic..a combination of embarassment of looking different and fear of getting up on stage. Her dad tried talking with her while I sat down with my son and started watching the performances.

I got a text message from her dad: “We are behind the stage. Not looking good for her performing today.”

I sighed. Part of me wanted my daughter to learn a valuable lesson about not caring what others think and facing one’s fears. The other part of me really wanted to see her perform.

I texted back: “I can run home and get another outfilt”

“Jeans and boots, please.”

I literally ran the three blocks home and grabbed a suitably casual outfit, then ran back. When she saw me enter the side hallway with the bag of clothes, she lit up and ran to me, grabbed the bag, and ran to the restroom to change.

Having avoided a nuclear meltdown, I settled in for the long haul of listening to other parents’ children perform. I looked at the program…19 songs. Ugh. I prepared myself to daydream, but then the funniest thing happened.

I absolutely loved listening to these kids. And watching them. I would see the same progression for each kid almost every time. First, they would make the loooong journey to the stage and walk up the stairs – sometimes glancing timidly towards the audience, other times completely focused on getting to the chair. Once on stage, most of them would sit, almost frozen, as Teacher Vincent ensured the guitar was in tune. Most wouldn’t look at the audience, they were laser-focused on Vincent. He’d hand the guitar back, and then go stand on the side of the stage. All the young profiles followed him as he’d walk off, and then he’d nod and they’d turn toward their sheet music and start playing.

The program mostly went in order of skill, so the first few performers played very short, basic pieces. It was *awesome* watching them focus so hard. Some bent over their guitars, clutching them like a life ring buoy. Others stared at their hands as they played. You could just see the gears turning and the mind whirring. It was beautiful.

As soon as they finished, it was almost a shock…like, oh…I’m done. I’m DONE! You could see the realization and relief wash over their faces and what had previously been a study in palpable focus suddenly became joy and pride.  The applause of the audience helped to snap them out of their concentration and their shoulders would relax and then they’d stand up and take their bow with a huge smile. Every single one of them exited the stage much more quickly then they entered.

While I enjoyed watching the younger kids perform, the teenagers were the ones who really moved me. They were so talented and calm and actually looked at the audience, so there was much more of a connection.

I teared up listening to the heartfelt singing of a young man who played “Volcano” by Damien Rice.

A blonde teenage girl brought to mind what my daughter might look like in 6 years or so, and I giggled when she sang Fun’s “Some Nights” and instead of singing “what the fuck” sang “What the f?” to keep it family-friendly.

An Indian teenager sang the beautiful and sweet song, “Begin Again” by Taylor Swift and she performed it with such heart that you would think she had written the song herself.

This is Silicon Valley, so of course there was the kid who played a duet with a track on his iPhone, which was his pre-recorded melodic death metal version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

My daughter enjoyed the recital but wants to take a break from lessons for a month or two. I’m seriously considering taking her lesson time!