Getting Lost on Purpose

Yesterday I got lost driving in St. Paul. My husband swears we should never cross the river that divides the Twin Cities. He’s gotten lost as well. Jesse Ventura, the former infamous governor of Minnesota, once insulted the city on national television by suggesting it was designed by Irish drunks (I imagine the Irish were insulted as well!).

canstockphoto9422901Getting lost has never caused me undue anxiety, especially since we bought a car with navigation – except it will fritz out at critical junctures in the journey. I have learned to just work on getting back to where I came from, doing u-turns in cul-de-sacs and slowing down to squint at street signs. It’s how I learn to find my way around.

When we traveled the west coast this year, I realized that having access to internet reviews, maps, pictures, and descriptions of every locale and hotel changed the nature of travel. I was rarely lost, surprised or delighted by the planned stops. I had to look for those moments.

In everyday life, the thrum-thrum of routine and picayune worries means that I have to look for those moments daily. Sometimes I think it will be this way until I’m found lifeless, slumped in my wheelchair at a nursing home. Sometimes I think any tragedy and ten years down the road, I’d be living a completely different life – that thinking awful thoughts will prick my appreciation for the sameness of this moment.

Moments are found in the knocking of a woodpecker, who is grocery shopping in the wood of our grayed deck railing. Or in an autumn memory flash of crunching through the leaves, while walking my chatty, happy 4-year-old to preschool years ago. Or hearing a piece of music that reminds me of new love and mix tapes.

canstockphoto4603487Sometimes though, we have to deliberately create those moments. We have to snatch up the defribrillator paddles and apply them in earnest. Wake up. Do something. Bring on the discomfort. I’ve done this over the years – trying improv comedy in my 30s, taking up martial arts in my 40s, public speaking, swimsuits and often saying no. I’ve been getting lost, been foolish, tried things not recommended at home, gone without a net, safety glasses, an umbrella or warm socks.

There is something I have not done. I have not dared to do anything beyond blogging with my writing.  I have a novel that I wrote the first draft of 4 years ago, that I’ve rewritten twice, renamed thrice and shredded in fits of pique. Then I decided to sign up canstockphoto14879538for a writers’ pitch conference taking place next spring. At this conference, I am supposed to pitch a polished novel manuscript to agents from three literary agencies.

Five months. I have five months to finish the cursed manuscript, fly it past beta-readers, get it to an editor and then hand over what remains to complete strangers. I want to throw up just a bit. But there it is – I’m awake and can no longer hit the snooze button.


It hung precariously to the tile. Only I didn’t see it until I was washing my hair. With no glasses on, it was something that didn’t match the pattern on the wall. And it moved. I shifted the shower head so I could stand facing the spider, further away. We eyed each other with dismay.

canstockphoto6967523There is always a moment, facing the creepy crawlies that invade our house, of decision. Their benign attempts to coexist are met with shrieks by the large, destructive predatory inhabitants. We are the elephants and they are the mice, and we shrink away.

I remembered many years ago, reading about Buddhist monks who tread paths carefully, lest they step on an ant. I began to walk more carefully.

When my daughter was younger, we’d pantomime saving the spider. We’d use an index card and a cup, removing the arachnid from its ancestral home, depositing it gently outside to roam free. The reality is that most house spiders die shortly after being deposited into the elements.

Then came the shrieking phase and all she wanted was the monster dead, which had always been my gut instinct anyway. It seemed more humane, casting a dark human shadow, a quick crushing end to its life. I am the monster.


I went to a poetry reading by Billy Collins a week ago and left feeling that I could write poetry. Until I tried to and was reminded that I was wrong. Over the years, I’ve read more poetry. I keep imagining that my ever-shrinking attention span would be a benefit, but it’s not. Poetry is an economy of language and done well, requires one’s full attention.

canstockphoto15817518Serving as US Poet Laureate for several years, Billy Collins writes what is often called “accessible poetry”. He describes it as unashamedly suburban, middle class,  and domestic. One of my fears is that I, and by extension my writing, am suburban, middle class and domestic. My childhood working class prejudices make me shrink from that description. Who we are now, though, informs our writing as much as who we were. It’s a good lesson to remember – creativity on a continuum.

One of the things I love most about living in a metropolitan area is the ability to attend a wide range of authors’ lectures. I enjoy hearing about their writing processes and experiences. Sometimes, though, they mostly let their work stand on its own. Mr. Collins read his poetry with only slight interjections in between each work. This seems novel in an age where self profession has become a genre all its own.


canstockphoto14284461Thank you to Kiri, Ross, and Cezanne for your winning entries in The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest. Nothing like some positive vibes to stave off this depressing political season! Stay tuned next week for the Honorable Mention entries from Catherine, Bill, and Alison.


Filed under Contest, Creativity, Personal

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 3rd Place

canstockphoto142844613rd Prize goes to Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab for “The Love of a Grandfather”. Her essay made me think about the nature of sacrifice and service on behalf of others. Who paved the road for us? And how will we pave the road for others?

She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a scenic Minnesota postcard. I also made a $50 donation to the Philippine Red Cross.

The Love of a Grandfather

By Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab

My grandfather used to tease me of being called “pugad de nilgab” or a granddaughter pulled out from the ashes of burned pine tree. Among his granddaughters, I have the darkest complexion. Nevertheless, I am my grandfather’s favourite granddaughter, that is according to my cousins. I did not know, he never mentioned but I do remember that he always try his best to give my small request. During fiestas, my aunts and elder cousins beg me to ask money for cotton candy and I do not fail them.

canstockphoto35886275My grandfather is a strong man and loves his family. He always tells me the story of his experience as a soldier during the dark ages of the Second World War. I even memorized the marching songs they sung. I also memorized their love story with my grandmother which he always tells me before bedtime. Most of the time, I slept with them with grandma because I want more of his stories. He has 20 “carabaos”* and I was always with him in feeding them and looking when 1 or 2 are astray. When we go home from the mountain after feeding the carabaos, he would carry me on his shoulders. I did not have the best friends aside from my school friends, but I had my grandpa.

One time, he was trying to memorize the colours of the American Flag including the president and I sat beside him and help him memorize. I never knew that he would leave us to the US, having the privilege as a veteran. I cried when he went away. His parting words were as always, it’s for you and your cousins’ schooling.

I went to college and he goes home every other year, and I was happy, but never again did I ask for money. I hoped that he would just go home and he could stay with us and never again, to see my grandmother cry at night when I sleep with her because she is alone in their room. I graduated college and asked him to come home. He told me he has to stay so that he could support my dream of becoming a lawyer.

He always dreamed when we were walking on the mountains looking for carabaos that I would be a lawyer. But, I did continue because I love the degree I finished and wanted to have job and show him that I can support my siblings and cousins so that he could come home. I had my first job in 2006 as a Social Worker in a Temporary home for abused children, and was happy to tell him how I love my job and how his stories has inspired the children. I waited and he came home lifeless August of 2006. My cousins and I finished our studies a cousin is a practicing doctor in the US, the other is a psychologist at the same time a teacher while my others are nurses and pharmacist.

canstockphoto2692257My grandfather’s dream was for us to finish our education and according to him “I must do everything that my grandchildren will not taste the hardship that my children (our parents) has experience due to lack of education”. I cannot forget my grandfather because of his love and devotion. His love to support us was not ended with my cousins rebellion, not ended with my non continuing of becoming a lawyer but pressed on to support every grandchildren who has a dream and inspire those whom he think needs inspiration.

“Every minute is an opportunity for me to help my grandchildren to realize their dreams, if I have to plant trees and sell as many as I can, I will! If I have to dig and look for a pot of gold, I will! If I have to sell my carabao, I will! Lived away from them, I will! I never want them to taste the pain of being uneducated and to bear the scourging heat of the sun from dust to dawn working ground yet with no progress. I love them.”   Eusebio Banggalat

* Water Buffalo in the Philippines


Filed under Contest

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 2nd Place

canstockphoto142844612nd Prize goes to Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens for “The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness”. His essay is a gentle reminder of how we impact each other with even the simplest of acts.

He was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and an extraneous Minnesota postcard. I also made a $75 donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness

By Ross Murray at Drinking Tips for Teens

I’m a big believer in balance: work-life balance, balanced diet, balance beams. There’s no cause without effect and no effect without a cause.

Consequently, I don’t expect people to be especially kind to me, because I generally feel I’ve done little to deserve it.

It’s not that I’m so filled with self-loathing and covert kitten-kicking that I think I’m unworthy of basic human decency. It’s that most of the time I feel I haven’t done anything exceptional to warrant anything exceptional being done for me.

It’s about that balance, karma if you will. In the balance of my life, I shouldn’t expect kindness. I should expect impatient tolerance, exasperated benevolence, begrudging kindness at best.

I suspect a lot of (neurotic, insecure) people feel this way about themselves, this sort of reverse entitlement. One of my favourite literary characters is Frank Bascombe, who has grown middle-aged and old in four novels by Richard Ford. Frank is always questing, but I think his quest can be summed up like this: be a decent man and try not to be an asshole. There are worse quests. I’m a bit of a Frank.

Yet despite my inner asshole, people are kind to me, considerably kind, and it always takes me by surprise.

canstockphoto6410730Earlier this summer, I hired my neighbour Clint to replace some rotting wood on our front porch, a job that required the tools, know-how and patience for measuring that I lacked. Clint came over, dug out the rot, replaced it, smoothed the join, tacked on some molding, job well done. “How much?” I asked. He waved me off. Ten bucks for the wood and glad to help.

“No, really,” I said. “I asked you because I was going to pay you, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, so I paid him the $10, plus, at my wife’s suggestion, beer, because sometimes beer is even better than money.

There’s more. This summer, friends and strangers answered my Kickstarter appeal to finance the printing of yet another self-published book the world absolutely does not need. They did so without any evidence that I can write fiction, other than my word for it, which could have been a fiction in itself.

The publisher of the newspaper that runs my weekly column recently served as my unofficial agent in setting up two events for me, one a workshop for high school English students, the other a reading and fundraiser at a local library. The impetus for her involvement is a little convoluted, but ultimately she set these gigs up for me out of kindness. “We’re proud of you,” she wrote. Publisher pride is even better than Mom pride.

I could go on and on, the kindness that people have shown me over the last few months and years and life.

I’m taken aback by this kindness. What have I done to deserve it?

Must be something.

And that’s the secret side effect of kindness.

Everyone knows that being kind to others makes you feel good. A selfless act is never entirely selfless because you feel the warmth of connecting with a fellow human. Bringing joy into another person’s life is hugely satisfying.

But the secret side effect is that the recipient of the kindness feels worthy, feels decent, feels that their quest not to be an asshole is somehow succeeding, despite all the dark thoughts, misdeeds and deeds not done, all those sarcastic comments and passive-aggressive emails, not to mention the shameless self-promotion in the guise of a thoughtful blog post. If life is about balance, and I receive kindness, then I must deserve it.

To realize that you must have lived your life in such a way as to have earned kindness is gratifying and healthy. It turns out that how others see you can help you see yourself more generously.

canstockphoto15724173This past weekend, a neighbour down the street saw me up the ladder, painting, painting, always painting. She asked how tall the ladder was. I said I didn’t know. (I bet Clint would know.) She went on to tell me she was having trouble reaching a point over a stairway on the side of her own house, which she too was in the process of painting.

I don’t know this neighbour well, don’t even know her name, honestly, but I carried my ladder down the street, maneuvered it against her house and then offered to paint the patch for her. I thought of all those people who’d been kind to me, and I offered this small kindness.

I felt good about it. I bet she did too.

Congratulations Ross!

Rrossmurrayaholeinthegroundoss Murray is the author of two books: You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, a collection of his news columns over the years and just recently published A Hole in the Ground, a work of fiction, which is available for purchase right at this very moment. I was one of the proud sponsors during his Kickstarter campaign and I’m in the middle of reading it – worth every penny.

Here’s a Drinking Tips for Teens sampler:

Beach Poets Society

How to talk to humans

My bookstore fantasy


Filed under Contest

The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: 1st Place

canstockphoto142844611st Place goes to Kiri at The Dust Season for the “A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-Ins and Police Action”. It takes a village to raise a child, but those villages often wait to show themselves. At just the right moment…

She was sent one Green Study Coffee Mug, a postcard from Minneapolis and $100 donation was made to the American Red Cross on her behalf.

“A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-Ins and Police Action”

By Kiri at The Dust Season

My son is an escape artist. He revels in finding ways around the protective prison cocoon of his home life. This would be fine, if my son were normal. But he isn’t and this story isn’t. So, before everyone gets up in arms about my use of the word ‘normal’ in relation to my son, let me get one thing straight: something beyond ordinary happened—and that’s okay.

I am coming to terms with the fact my autistic son is getting older, bigger, faster—and let’s be honest—smarter than I am. He recognizes that, by the end of the week, mommy is flat out exhausted and lacking in due diligence. This has led to several problematic incidents involving the police.

Before my mother-in-law left to go back to sunny (drought ridden) California, we were enjoying a last Masterpiece Theater. We were snuggled on the couch waiting for Inspector Lewis to figure out who dunnit when there was a knock at the door.
Argh, fifteen minutes to the end….

canstockphoto17258172As I approach the door, I spy the red and blue lights flashing against the windows. This does not clue me in. I open the door to find an officer standing there.

“Ma’am, don’t you answer your phone?” The officer says.

“Uh, we don’t have a home phone, just a cell phone.” I say, nonplused.
(Note: No alarm bells are ringing yet. I haven’t had this pleasure before.)

His next question sets off alarm bells aplenty.
“Do you have a son?”


I scream my son’s name, whip around to go search the house despite the quite apparent evidence he—like Elvis—has left the building.

“Ma’am. Ma’am. I need you to calm down.”

I’m frantically grabbing shoes, my purse, my phone which has been in my bedroom recharging, but the officer won’t let me leave until I am no longer hyperventilating.

“Your son is fine. A neighbor called it in.”

Turns out my son was visiting a cul-de-sac two blocks east and north of our home. It’s a favorite route of his when we take walks. Someone at that address saw my son and realized how odd it was to see a boy scribbling on paper squatting in someone’s driveway at 10:30 p.m.

I follow the officer in my car, we get to the location where another officer is waiting with my son. He didn’t restrain him, just walked with the boy until mom arrived.

A conversation ensues in which I learn they figured out who my non-verbal child was because of a piece of paper he had in his hand which had his name scrawled on it. They called the local principal who helped to identify my son through process of elimination.

canstockphoto8143483This would be a feel good story, if it ended here. This alone, this interaction in which nothing bad happened despite the unlimited opportunity would be enough. But no, my son discovered his super power and he is now making the most of it.

Two more times, since this one, my son has escaped my hawk-like surveillance.* All of these times coincide with Sundays when I am tired, distracted, and just a little too grateful that he is being ‘quiet’ and ‘good’ when actually he is breaking into the local church and, then, two weeks ago, a neighbor’s home—a neighbor we don’t know.

This is where true serendipity comes in.

My twelve-year-old, who is big enough to no longer have the automatic cute appeal of a child, entered a stranger’s home. The stranger was alone at home with her small child and a dog.

I promise you, I have spent many nerve wracked hours imagining what could have happened. What might have happened. What didn’t happen.

Instead, the woman contacted the police. The police contacted me because they have my son’s information on file and now are getting to know him. The woman even took her dog outside because my son seemed upset. The woman was not mad, did not blame me and even tried to console me. I was never made to feel like I was a bad parent because I couldn’t keep track of my child.

In a world that is so very eager to tell you the worst case scenario, where autistic children die from wandering, where the police react before recognizing a special needs situation, it felt important to share that sometimes things turn out okay. And that’s simply extraordinary.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*If by hawk-like surveillance you mean geriatric, near-sighted-buzzard-distracted-by-carrion awareness.

canstockphoto34208068The author has now installed a door alarm which shrieks like a demented banshee whenever the rear door is opened so much as a sliver. It is the most beautiful, heart-attack-inducing sound you will ever hear.

Congratulations Kiri (for winning and for your new door alarms)!

Here’s The Dust Season Sampler:

An Unnatural Brunette Gets Political

A Creep in the Nighttime

A Villain After My Own Heart…


Filed under Contest

Dear Trump Apologists: No Apology Required

canstockphoto10369721Dear Trump Apologists,

In the wave of unrelenting Trump antics, you are leaping in chivalrous desperation, demanding apologies for the wives and daughters of the nation. Sit down and shut up.

Please do not do anything on my behalf. Do not feign horror at transgendered people in my bathroom (where they’ve been for years). Do not explain my biology to me. Do not offer transvaginal probes to save my fetal cells. Do not shriek think of the mothers, daughters, sisters when trying to convince rapists not to rape. Do not act dismayed when the vulgarian you nominated continues to be vulgar. Save your indignation.

Here’s the secret about marginalized people – they only get stronger with insult. They organize better, they learn how to have dialogue, and they listen. They understand that progress waits for no one to catch up. They build their own support systems. They take self-defense courses. They teach their sons and daughters well. They learn not to wait to be saved, rescued, protected, apologized to, or even treated with basic human dignity. Best of all, they vote.

If I want an apology, protection or health services from you, I’ll ask for them. Until then, there will be no fainting or lace hanky waving on my behalf. Reorient yourselves and continue your mission – there will be so many other things to apologize for by the time this election is over.


A woman human

Note: I do try to avoid these overdone topics, but I get fed up with the mock outrage and meaningless “defense of women” – it’s hypocrisy and cynicism at its worst. Most women I know can kick ass when needed. So many asses, so little time…


Filed under Humor, In the News, Personal

Winners of The Green Study’s “Positive Happy Nice Story” Contest

canstockphoto14284461Thank you to everyone who submitted entries to The Green Study’s “Positive Happy Nice Story” Contest. What I enjoyed most about reading the entries were the diverse perspectives in what brings joy, not just in the experiencing of something, but in the retelling as well.

In addition to the top three winners, I’ve added 3 honorable mentions and thrown in some prizes for fun. The six essays selected will be published on this blog over the next few weeks.

1st Prize goes to Kiri at The Dust Season for “A Happily-Ever-After Story Involving Break-ins and Police Action”. She will be sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a cheesy Minnesota postcard. I will also make a $100 donation to her local American Red Cross Chapter.

2nd Prize goes to Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens for “The Secret Side-Effect of Kindness”. He will be sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and an extraneous Minnesota postcard. I will also make a $75 donation to the Canadian Red Cross.

3rd Prize goes to Cezanne at Pugaddinilgab for “The Love of a Grandfather”. She will be sent one Green Study Coffee Mug and a silly Minnesota postcard. I will also make a $50 donation to the Red Cross International Disaster Response fund.

Honorable Mentions: These three entries, listed in no particular order, included a philosophical storyteller, a doctor who cares, and a paean to love. Diverse and expressive, I couldn’t leave them out. I will publish each of these as guest posts to my blog, send them a Green Study Coffee Mug, goofy Minnesota postcard and donate $25 each to the American Red Cross on their behalf of their local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

Bill at pinklightsabre with “The Expectations of Joy”.

Catherine at Healing Through Connections with “Don’t Give Up!”.

Alison at Adventures in Wonderland with “Sometimes We Take for Granted Those Who are Most Important to Us”.

Thank you to everyone who participated in my search for a little sunshine during this gloomy political season – enjoy the upcoming posts over the next few weeks!


Filed under Blogging, Contest, Uncategorized

Here We Go Again: The Blog Dilemma

canstockphoto14284461 The Green Study’s Positively Happy Nice Story Contest is a great way to win for your local American Red Cross and there’s a mug! The deadline is Monday, October 3rd, 12:00pm. See here for details.

I took the summer off in hopes of refilling my word reservoir and bringing needed engagement back to blogging. In September, I kicked off an annual contest, dipped my toes into politics, attached my face to the blog, freaked myself out by doing an inept podcast, tiptoed around other people’s blogs and flopped around with no direction or sense of purpose. I baited the hook, but nothing in my brain is really taking the bite.

At least once a year, if not more, I have to justify my reasons for blogging. They’ve shifted over the last five years, but this year seems to be tougher than most. Part of the reason is that I’m seeing longtime favorite bloggers close up shop or disappear in the vapors of the ethernet. It begs the question: what do they know that I should be paying attention to?

canstockphoto12000846Since it’s an election year, I’ve exhausted myself reading political articles with the accompanying online antics of partisan citizens. My online time has been spent engaging less and being indignant more. I’ve tried to disconnect, but at least once a day, I check The Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight (which feels like playing political roulette). And an angry hour later, I get up in disgust to go rake or do dishes – anything to shake off the sense that we’re about to implode as a nation and that humans are awful.

I made a halfhearted effort to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, cussing through the entire process and attempting to change settings so that any public contact will be highly unlikely. It all feels like dilution of my soul and I have started thinking about the idea that maybe my writing is suffering simply because I am incapable of talking, blogging, twittering and bookfacing so damned much. Maybe our word reservoirs have a limit, especially if one is an introvert.

Anna Quindlen, a Pulitzer-winning writer, suggested the possibility in a lecture I attended last week. She never talks about ongoing work, because she felt, at times, that she only had so many words. I’ve thought about this a lot since. I sometimes conflate social platforms with writing, which is fine, if that kind of writing were my goal. It’s not, but some days it seems it’s the only kind of writing I’m capable of: 700-1000 word personal essays that often feel like me chasing my own tail.

canstockphoto18118414There are successful bloggers who have transformed their blogging into writing careers, but they are few and far between. Some sell compilations of blog posts and make a little money that way. Some sell advice on how to transform blogging into money or job opportunities or social media mega-stardom. And I think, good for them. Not so good for me.

It’s too easy to get confused about purpose and therefore start spinning off in a thousand different directions, as I did last month. I learned what happens when I don’t give the intended impression. I think it was expected that I’d be more bombastic, more entertaining for a podcast interview, but I was just me, moderate in most ways and not interested in flame wars or Twitter beefs. The narrative became disjointed and despite my excitement about trying something new, I ended up feeling deflated.

Writing or speaking publicly means giving up an element of control. You cannot control how you will be presented or interpreted. That’s a problem for someone like me, who has spent a lifetime trying to control my moods, my words, my intentions. I’m as much a wingnut as the next person, I just usually know how to parse myself a little better.

This is all to say that writing a personal essay blog is not a platform from where I launch Michelle 2.0. It doesn’t serve a marketing or branding purpose. There is no gain that is immutable and no loss from which it is impossible to recover. This is a good thing, because traffic measured by those standards means I’m likely to file WordPress bankruptcy at any moment.

canstockphoto15203159Over the years, in comment exchanges with other bloggers and writers, we talk about purpose and why we continue to blog. Perhaps my blog has simply matured and without mixed media, cross-platform branding, purchasing power or magical blogging pixie dust, this is it. Writing, commenting, and watching other bloggers come and go.

My discouragement at this point is also related to my disappointing lack of growth, as a person and a writer. My blog posts over the years bear witness to the topics I return to over and over again, personal issues that are on a rinse-and-repeat cycle. It’s like reading my teenage diary and realizing I’m still as awkward and insecure as ever – a caterpillar that never fully metamorphosizes.

So the challenge lies before me. What purpose does writing a public journal serve? Is it an obstacle to writing goals offline? Does it dilute writing quality? At this point, the only thing weighing in favor of continued blogging is you. I’ve made connections over the years that I value – writers, photographers, readers, up-and-coming millennials, stay-at-home parents, retirees, humorists, people coping with mental illness, people just coping with life.

I can’t imagine disconnecting from you. Blogging opened up a world for me in years when I worked from home and only had contact with someone who ate crayons and wanted me to sing that dinosaur song again. Now, as I struggle to finish writing a novel, it has kept me from becoming too isolated, churning too much in my own compost. I don’t know if that is reason enough, but it is reason enough for now.

So thank you.


Filed under Blogging, Personal, Writing