In the Unlikely Event of My Happiness

canstockphoto21074062I’ve been freezing up at the keyboard. This last week freaked me out a bit. In the course of a week, my subscribed followers jumped by 1000+ readers, crossing over the 10,000 mark. The Likes on this Freshly Pressed post exceeded 1200. I answered 275+ comments.

I’d never experienced anything like this in the four years I’ve been blogging. I have to believe that it is because, for the first time ever on this blog, I used the word “clusterfuck”.

I’ve had the thought all week that okay, I’m done. Really, where do I go from here? Does this extra attention mean I need to change my blog theme, open a Twitter account, punch up my rhetoric, Instagram a boob selfie and find a picture from 20 years ago where I look less wrinkly and put it on the blog? What is expected of me now?

Panic. That’s what an introvert does when they get a little attention. The moment of glee morphed into dread over the week. Give me a moment of unmitigated joy and I’ll anxiously stomp on it before someone or something else does. Premeditated squashing.

This is how I move forward, never lingering too long, never resting on laurels, never asking for more. I think about happiness and what that might mean for me. I think about all the well-meaning advice of the attitude-of-gratitude-too-blessed-to-be-stressed crowd. I think, as I often have over the years, what is wrong with me?

canstockphoto15489769It’s easy to be a discontented, restless, and striving person in a world that feeds it. Consumerism is based on fomenting dissatisfaction, while memes of puppies, flowers and Buddhists exhort us to be happy in the moment. Meanwhile, Likes, Hits, Follows, Stars, Views, are all feeding the message that more is better. But more is just more.

When it comes to figuring out what makes a person happy, it gets weird. We are so often told what should/might/will likely make us happy that when it doesn’t, we’re left feeling that there is something wrong with us. I must remind myself what has, historically, been happy-making for me.

Solitude. I am often happiest as a party of one. It’s when I’m working in the garden, dirty from head to toe with sweat dripping into my eyes. Sitting back on my haunches, I notice the flurry of life around me, bees and butterflies and frantic squirrels – and I get to be right in the middle of it. Being part of something greater, I feel the privilege of being alive.

Love. Never one long for sentiment, I feel my attachments like ligaments to bone. A child who makes me see everything all over again. A man who baffles me with patience. Friends who have raucous laughs and who are, when I say “I need to be alone”, understanding, not bruised.

canstockphoto10265804A story. There’s that ending to a book, when I sit back and sigh. Marvelous. The writer was a magician performing sleight of hand. Who wouldn’t want that kind of skill – the ability to take a reader out of themselves?

Odd sources of happiness. I’m happiest when my desk is clean, when I’ve written something that makes me laugh, when I’m in the middle of a run, looking on the verge of a cardiac event, red-faced and dripping with sweat. There are extrinsic things that make me happy: coffee, when I make someone else laugh, live music, and being outdoors.

Like the ten pairs of glasses a middle-aged myopic owns, the things that make me happy have never been where I looked for them. It’s in the looking and striving that causes the disappointment and pain. In never expecting happiness as a given, I find myself constantly surprised.

I think of that unalienable right, in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, to the “pursuit of happiness”. Pursuit suggests a high speed chase, and less a saunter. If happiness requires a chase, it’s getting away. I stroll. I sit on park benches for long periods of time. And when a happy event runs me over, I have to sit with it for a long time to see that it’s a good thing.

In the end, I’ve realized that the things that make me happy will likely always make me happy, with an occasional addition, like my current addiction to burritos or meeting fellow writers.

When something happens, like a blog post exploding, I can marvel/freak out in the moment, but then it’s time to get back to being me, a bemused, caffeinated, and sardonic depressive who likes to write. Whee. Let the good times roll.

What makes you happy?


Filed under Blogging, Humor, Personal, Writing

Thank You…Now It’s Time to Get to Work

canstockphoto7404562Thank you to the many bloggers, readers, and writers who stopped by my Freshly Pressed piece “Being Fiction, Instead of Writing It“. I have never experienced that kind of traffic and number of comments on a post before, so it really caught me off guard. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone, but I know sometimes I miss a comment or two.

I appreciated the conversation, the encouragement and the personal experiences that some of you shared. I learned that there are a lot of procrastinating writers out there and that we’ve all read way too much writing advice. This should be somewhat comforting to me, although I’m in a place where the less comfortable I am, the better.

canstockphoto16261737That being said, I’m going to keep this post brief and to the point. I have a novel 3rd draft to finish. I have a short fiction blog to work on and will continue to write weekly posts for The Green Study. When I wrote about my procrastination, it was a way of blowing out the pipes and addressing the situation. I have some writing talent, ambivalent ambition and a lot of excuses that I’ve used up avoiding the work. These things do not a novelist make.

Let’s take the bull by the horns. Today, I’m working on a synopsis and outline for my novel. It’s a little reverse engineering. I was a pantser on the initial novel draft, which has confounded and paralyzed me for the last couple of years. For me to move forward, I need to know where I really want to go. It’s the only way to end procrastination – doing something, anything, that is a step in the right direction. Today.

It might mean catching up on some rest, wrestling with five words, eating slightly better, taking a walk or it could be tackling the mess in the garage or closet. Dear fellow procrastinators, what are you doing today, to contribute to a personal goal, writing or otherwise?


Filed under Personal, Writing

When You Become Your Mother

canstockphoto3193594It’s an odd little thing in our family. All the women, were they men, would be suspected of bomb-plotting or weird porn habits or at least highly awkward social skills. The highly awkward social skills is an actual genetic trait in our family, apparently. A distaste for technology, reclusive living, books or dogs as best friends – classic signs that you will be my mother. Add in a British accent, a predilection for salacious crime novels, a subtle, disapproving pursing of the lips and you will be my grandmother.

For years, I lived blithely with the delusion that I was none of those things. After all, I didn’t marry or have kids young. I joined the Army, set out on my own, made friends along the way, got a college degree, drove in the big cities, married a man who wasn’t abusive, had a kid who wasn’t a surprise or a burden – I was as different as could be. Except I loved my books and my disapproving lip pursing. I could tell myself that mostly, I wasn’t them.

canstockphoto11189770And what was so wrong with alienating all your children, living in seclusion, having awkward exchanges with people who laughed uncomfortably at your dry humor? Why shouldn’t oddly-named dogs and weighty tomes be your friends? Because any child knows that whatever your parentage is, it is completely messed up and you never want to be whatever that is. I’ve met the rare people who adore their parents and I do my best to avoid them at parties.

Over the last year, I’ve had occasion for more social interaction than I think should be necessary for human existence. My façade is slipping. I’ve become slightly more brusque and thoughts that I’d normally keep to myself are leaking out all over the place. I’m alienating people. Isolation is starting to hold appeal. I might adopt a dog and name it Herbal Tea. I have a bestie that is about 530 pages long.

Conversations with my mother have changed. I’ve apologized a lot, because now I get it. There were years when I mocked and teased her about the pack of dogs she had in tow or the fact that she wouldn’t be discovered, if she died, until the smell wafted down the street and one of her dogs wandered down the sidewalk with a pelvic bone. Seriously, we both think that idea is funny. Birds of a feather make macabre jokes together and all that.

Now that I’ve come to this knowledge, I feel that it should bring a certain level of empowerment and freedom. No longer constrained by who I think I should be, I can comfortably settle into who I am. My daughter has already begun to mock me. I’m so proud.


Filed under Humor, Personal

Being Fiction, Instead of Writing It

canstockphoto1323495Over the last few years, I’ve written blog post after blog post about making changes with a mind towards writing. I quit paid work. I quit volunteering. I set up my study, surrounded by books, many of them about writing. I am supported by the people in my life. I talk about writing. I read about writing. I write about writing. On occasion, I even write things that aren’t about writing.

The only person in my life who doesn’t take me seriously as a writer is me.

The door is open wide and I look desperately out of windows, jumping at anything that is not writing. It’s an odd compulsion that I’m at a loss to explain. I read somewhere that writing is hardest for writers. This makes no sense to me. When I’m in my writing groove, I’m so damned happy. But I’m a dilettante, without rigor or discipline. And the time for lying to myself is over.

I’ve been a consummate caregiver. But my child needs less from me. My mother-in-law is moving into a nursing home. I’m becoming increasingly less employable and less relevant to others as each moment passes. The closer I get to unfettered time, the more conflicted and lost I feel. But the cost to my psyche of not writing is starting to outweigh everything else.

If you daydream about a day when you didn’t have to work and could devote yourself full-time to writing…if you wished that those around you supported and encouraged you…if you wished that you had the perfect writing space…if – if – if.

canstockphoto10947379Real writers know this is a shell game. I have met all my “if” conditions and I am no more a writer than I was at the height of activity – working, volunteering, caregiving. For me, calling myself a writer was just a lie to make all that other shit worth it. I could feel that I had a higher purpose, even when kissing someone’s ass in an office or getting barfed on by my child. I could always tell myself that when I had more time, I’d be awesome.

Well, it turns out I’m not awesome. I’m a procrastinator, a hustler trying to put up a good front. I remember watching a commencement speech by Neil Gaiman. He talked about how he got jobs by lying about where he’d been published and then made it a point of honor to get published later at the places about which he lied. Like him, I’m going to call myself  “chronologically challenged”. My talk has preceded my walk.

There are many people who write/blog/create memes about writing. I know – I’ve read or seen many of them, because it was something that I could do instead of write. I don’t experience muses or inspiration or manic writing. I lost the poetry of my adolescent years and the sentimentality of my twenties. My thirties were dominated by marriage and child-rearing. And here I am, wrapping up my forties in a clusterfuck of unresolved personal issues and middle-aged angst.

canstockphoto12404837Here’s the thing about inner conflict: it’s the heart of everything. It’s the recognition that you are your best friend and your worst enemy. It’s the battle between what was, what is and what will be. It’s the ultimate choosing of right and wrong, of what feeds you or what sucks your soul dry. It’s grabbing your childhood by the throat and saying “enough already!” It’s learning how to take all those chronic character flaws and turn them in your favor. It’s recognizing that there are certain things that you will never change about yourself.

I’ve been struggling the last couple of years, swinging wildly between determination and defeat. These last four months were a long finishing punch. It turns out that I do have a muse. An insistent, rather violent one who favors tankards of coffee, swear words and surprise hook punches. Okay, okay, I get it. I’m tapping out. You can stop now.

I’m putting a spin on my forties, when I decided I’d become a martial artist, super mom, Japanese ink painter, personal trainer, officer of the law, marathoner, web genius, everywhere volunteer and organic vegan superfreak. It was all research for writing. It sounds so much better than a midlife panic.

canstockphoto16261737It’s time to ante up or fold. I’ve run off in a thousand different directions and always, always, I come back to writing. And the only opposition to me seriously pursuing it, is me.

That’s a little embarrassing, considering the very real obstacles a lot of artists encounter. But so is getting kicked in the face by a 12 year old in taekwondo, painting bamboo 5,000 times and having it still look like a tulip, running so slow that I get lapped by the senior walkers, farting while bench pressing, nearly passing out during public speaking and offending people in the regular course of my life just by being me. What’s being a failed writer going to do? Humiliate me? Hell, I got this.

So I’m taking the best writing advice I’ve ever read and running with it: write. Set hours, set commitment, failure possibly imminent. I can always become an origami instructor if it doesn’t work out. canstockphoto8251234


Filed under Creativity, Humor, Writing

A Birthday, Allelopathy, and an Epiphany

canstockphoto8352036This summer has been one of my worst summers since that year I had to go to church camp and make macrame owls, alongside girls who wanted to try on my glasses and giggle hysterically about how bad my eyesight was. Haha, dumbasses, you can’t Lasik stupid away.

When they say someone has snapped, I always think that must be a relative term. One person’s breakage is a trip to the grocery store for another. My trip to the grocery store involved me being angry for weeks on end. I’m still feeling pretty hostile.

It’s a child’s rage and it took me completely off guard. I turned 48 last week and for the months prior, I felt this anger build. We’re told that women tend to turn their anger inwards, but my depression was not a big enough vessel to contain it this time.

As hard as I try, I think I’m kind of a shitty human being. Some people go through life effortlessly, with little introspection or regret. Part of me wonders what that would be like. The rest of me thinks they’re either extremely healthy or sociopaths.

canstockphoto1830736Over the last couple of years, I’ve struggled with the do-gooder me. Like a cheesy answer to a job interview question about weaknesses, I feel overly responsible for others. Leading the parent-teacher group, taking care of my mother-in-law, stepping up when volunteers are asked for, donating money, goods, time. I’ve done a lot of organized volunteer work in my life, as well as the informal saying “yes” when someone asks for help. I was a problem solver, reliable, responsible and generous.

Something has changed. I’ve become so angry and resentful that I’m blurting “NO!” even before someone finishes the question. The pendulum has swung. My motivation for doing good often lay with my sense that I was not good enough. And that no longer seems a good enough reason.

It starts young, this goodness of the heart that really isn’t. It starts with the oldest child in a family of alcoholics. It starts with words. Lowbrow versions of not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not outgoing enough. Thoughtless words tossed off by adults who were never enough, either.

canstockphoto10740080It starts the first time you believe that a fundamentalist God will strike you dead because you lied about sneaking food at night. Dear god, please don’t kill me. I’ll be ever so good. It starts when adults praise and fawn over you because you are such a good, polite little girl, but you know that it’s an act. Theirs and yours.

It starts when you’re 11 and your stepfather passes out while driving and you desperately tug at the steering wheel and push your foot on the brake to steer to the shoulder. It starts when you quickly gather your brothers and sister, herding them out of the house before the punching starts. You are 13 and responsible for their lives. From that point on, you feel responsible for everything.

It continues when you have trouble making friends, because you’re an introvert. So you do favors. You give rides and money, make them laugh, drink enough to be outgoing. They seem to like you. You try to be agreeable, even though you think their latest perm makes them look like Carrot Top and that their boyfriends are num-nuts. You keep your sharper opinions to yourself, smile when you don’t feel like it and drive them to the movie theater to see a movie you don’t want to see.

It continues when your boyfriend calls you a whore for not being a virgin and you think he is right, because they all are. You thrive at Army basic training because being screamed at that you’re too slow or fat or stupid or woman is nothing new. It doesn’t phase you. You think you’ve got it under control. The rules are laid out for you to follow and you follow them.

It continues for decades. You are a good employee, loving spouse, decent parent, reliable friend. Your anger is this vague, pulpy mess that you sort of, kind of, blame on others’ expectations and exhaustion. And that works for awhile. Until it doesn’t. Until one day, you wake up and realize that it’s all you. Your expectations and demands of yourself are holding you hostage.

canstockphoto9946409Insomnia has become my new thing. I lay wide awake at 3am, my witching hour. I think, what if I stopped doing it all? Would anyone even notice? Bit by bit, as I do less, no one really has. For a moment, I mourn the wasted time and feel a little sorry for myself. And then there’s the anger that smells like childhood. How could you be so stupid, so misdirected, so delusional?

No, no, that’s not right. I’m confused. I thought I was less than, so I worked to be good, but now I’m angry about the fact that I was “good” for all the wrong reasons and because of that, I’m less than. Dysfunctional math at its finest.

They call it a midlife crisis, as if it’s a one-time event solved by a racy car, a gym membership, a young lover, airline miles. Maybe for some, it is. For me, it’s a slow burn in place, growing more intense by the moment. It’s not a lifetime of regret, it’s the thought oh no, I want to do so much more. Time has taken on a physical quality. Every activity is weighed and measured and found wanting.

There will be a contingent of people who tell me none of it matters as long as good was done. It reminds me of a term in nature called allelopathy. The word allelopathy comes from the Greek, meaning “mutual harm” and defines the biochemical effect plants can have, both positive and negative, on the organisms and plants around them.

canstockphoto10644936In my case, I have this old, scraggly tree that grew from those childhood years, overshadowing the ground around it. But there is a seedling, borne of the love I’ve given and received, of those moments of happiness and creativity, of contented solitude. It has grown as high as it will be allowed to while that old tree shades it. And that, my friends, is an epiphany.


Filed under Personal

The Green Study Summer Song: Last Intros of August

canstockphoto5742233The loud song of cicadas is drilling into my head and summer has decided that it’s not going down without a fight. Hot temps are on tap for the week ahead. We went up north over the weekend, in need of a getaway from all the heavy discussions about elder care. We found a little-known event called the Northbound Caravan arts and music festival. One of the four bands performing was “i like you” and is a local favorite of ours.

The weather was perfect and the company lovely. It was nice to be reminded of one of the best things in my life – my family. We laughed, lounged and talked. Things are about to change for the three of us. Comfortable routines upended, a new normal established, the shuffling of work and school schedules, contractors and nursing homes and the desperate scrabbling of a fledgling writer, oh my.

Endings and beginnings. I feel fall telling summer that it can take its cheeriness and just shove it. Delicious melancholy is seeping in and heat or no, I hear the wind in the trees that whispers soon, soon.

It was a pleasure to introduce and meet so many bloggers this month. I’ve tried to keep my interaction to a minimum, but I wanted to say thank you to those who left comments. It’s my usual practice to respond, but self-preservation demanded that I step back and take a breather. I have two remaining blogs to introduce and I’ve recapped the previous introductions.

I will return to regular blogging as soon as I can write about something other than how damned hot it is.


Meet Chana at Little Duckies: Parenting, Polyticks, and the Everyday Busyness of an American-born Mom in Israel

I’m a mother of two and live in Israel. I blog about my thoughts on living here in Israel, which, unfortunately, has meant that I post a lot on news lately and less on parenting. I am waiting for the day when the news gets boring, and trying to think of ways to work in the parenting, until the situation calms down (and if it isn’t clear, I am very anti-violence. As if it helps).

Mom-life Identity Crisis : My dilemma, which many parents go through at some point. Stay home, or keep my terrific job? Daycare, or no way? Can I make working from home, actually work?

Schlomo’s Reaction to the Sirens: Rocket attacks from a kid’s perspective.

A Tongue-Tie Survival Story: How we made it through awful tongue tie . . . even though, apparently, we’re still not done (I post on mastitis in the works).


Meet Tippy Rex at When You Stop Digging: Stories of sex and love addiction, and how to tell when you’ve reached bottom

I write a blog about addiction to male attention. It’s about sex and travel and breakups and the need for connectedness. As my ex would say, “everything is a love story.”

A recent dispatch from Rome (I’m out seeking geographic solutions to my problems): Minimal Baggage: Rome

Two favorites:
Like Lord of the Flies, But With More Alcohol

Ten Completely Awesome Things about Being Single


August Blog Introductions

Ellen Hawley at Notes from the U.K.

Pheonix at Struggling to Thrive: A parent’s journey raising a Failure to Thrive child.

Alison and Don at Adventures in Wonderland ~ a pilgrimage of the heart

Catherine Cheng, M.D. at Healing Through Connection: The Inner Work of Physician-Patient Relationship

Honie at HonieBriggs

Donna at A Year of Living Kindly

Sandy Sue at A Mind Divided: Artful, Conscious Living with Bipolar Disorder

The Pragmatic Hindu: A Practical Journey Through the Bhagavad Gita

Susan at Often on the Bottles…: Colourful news and clues from Susan

Greg at Almost Iowa: Where irrationality trumps reason

Alice at Coffee and a Blank Page

Evan at The Urban Vertical Project

Kirizar at The Dust Season

Carrie at Philosofishal


See you in September!


Filed under Blogging

The Green Study on Break: The Blog Days of Summer

canstockphoto13311430It’s a fortunate thing I’ve taken a break from writing full blog posts, which would likely be an unending string of complaints followed by an occasional whine and a dollop of self-pity. Transition to nursing home. Transition to middle school. Transition to my own personal hell of over-scheduled, chaotic days and lots of interaction with people I don’t particularly care for – I’m apparently legally related to a lot of them.

Stress brings out the best and worst in me. For sheer making-things-happen moxie, I’m the person you want. Details, information, follow up on meds, money and hygiene? I’m the bullet. I reserve gentleness, what I have of it, for those I care for and love. But I am also impatient, have little regard for sentimentality and am likely an eye roll away from punching someone out. As I’ve said repeatedly to no one in particular “shit does NOT always take care of itself”. For those who think that the universe will work everything out on its own, you’ve never dealt with the mind-boggling bureaucracy for aging humans.

And here’s a tip: If a waft of urine rolls over you when you open the front door of a nursing home (euphemistically now called a Care Center), this might not be the place for your loved one. Also, if the employees’ name tags are handwritten on pieces of paper taped to their uniforms, this might indicate also NOT A PLACE FOR YOUR LOVED ONE. I saw both during tours yesterday.

So, onward and upward, my friends. I continue my month of blog introductions with 4 more blogs – a blogging buffet, with a little something for everyone.


caapb narrow

Meet Alice at Coffee and a Blank Page:

Coffee and a Blank Page: I am a feminist memoirist and academic who writes about sex, bodies, minds, and violence. In that process, I also think I write about hope.

Most of my posts fall into one of three categories, so I’m linking to a sample of each:

ATTN: Men, This Is Not How Doors Work [feminist and ranty]

Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl [memory project]

This Is Not a Poem [though yes, it actually is a poem]


Meet Evan at The Urban Vertical Project:

I run a blog about urban vertical farming. Through vertical farming, I truly believe we have a way to save the world. Agriculture contributes a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the highest water polluters in the world. But, there are tons of awesome ideas bouncing around about how to save the planet through farming. I try and share those with people and give them some inside information about how they can get started themselves.

Check out:

The first vertical farm showdown: Why you need to know what’s happening in Singapore 

Fresh Water Greens: A Hydroponic Success Story

and, for a summary of the potential for vertical farming in general: How to convince your friends vertical farming is the next big thing 


Meet Kirizar at The Dust Season:

IMG_7940My blog is a platform for all the voices in my head. I’m tired of listening to them and they need a new audience, so it’s a win-win, really.

You can listen to the inner nattering of my SciFi Geek Girl finding humor in embarrassing situations in: Captain’s Log: To Boldly Go…

Or, you can enjoy my whimsical (read: borderline bad taste) humor in Friday Fictioneers: Jolly Green Giant Dead at 55

Lastly, you may admire my honesty or scorn my openness in: On How To Shave Your Legs When You are Middle Aged.

Giving you a window into my soul will give you a greater appreciation for people who keep their drapes closed.


Meet Carrie at Philosofishal:

My blog spans reviews and reflections on the arts; teachings and resources on writing; samples of my creative work; my thoughts on dogs, birds, and sea otters (all things that eat fish, oddly enough); and tributes to free speech, reason, and blogs I enjoy.

Three posts provide a good starting point:

Play-Write: A Reply to “On Treating Writing as a Form of Play” – A core theme of my artistic philosophy includes links to several posts on the topic.

Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 6 of 10 – A poetic sample links to the first 5 showcased excerpts of my nature poetry. I’m currently featuring a similar series of famous poets’ work.

Scotland’s Burns and Outlander Rival Shakespeare’s Bawdy – A fun, racy resource, and a related post, decodes and glosses a slice of the TV show Outlander.


I ran out of Wednesdays for all the blogs offering up intros, but I’ll post again on Monday, August 31st to introduce the rest and wrap up the month.

Thanks again to everyone who participated!


Filed under Blogging, Uncategorized