Monday, March 24, 2014

15 literary influences

There is a meme circulating on Facebook right now. It invites people to list the first 15 literary influences in their lives - in under 15 minutes.

Because my husband, BMG, asked, here are mine, organized by the type of influence they had on me:

Stories I remember reading in my childhood:

  • Carolyn Haywood - Hers were the first mindless serials I remember reading obsessively. To this day I still find an author I like and then inhale her/his books. The author du jour is Deborah Crombie. I continuously stalk the library shelves for books by Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, and Jonathan and Faye Kellerman
  • Ray Bradbury (ONLY because of the short story "All Summer In A Day," which I had to read in 4th grade. It horrified and fascinated me and I've never forgotten it.)

These two guys wrote the first "adult books" I ever read:

  • Stephen King - "The Stand" was the first long form adult book I ever read. (My pal Erika gave me the Stephen King gateway drug, "Night Moves." Yup, I mean business when I read
  • John Irving - My aunt loaned me her copy of "The Cider House Rules," which started a ridiculous love affair with his work and helped me become a feminist. "A Son of the Circus" was nothing but irritating to me, then I learned that John Irving has an elitist side IRL, and the love affair ended. 

These authors wrote books I read during my college years - some because I had to, others because I wanted to. All introduced me to new ideas and world views that had an impact on me:

  • Margaret Atwood - "The Handmaid's Tale" was on the reading list the summer before my freshman year
  • Aldous Huxley - "Brave New World"? Woah. 
  • William Golding - "Lord of the Flies" is still a useful cultural reference today. Go banana.

Yep, I love to escape inside a good, all-consuming fantasy world, and these are the masters, IMHO:

  • Johnny Gruelle - Boy did I get lost inside the Raggedy Ann and Andy books of my youth. Perhaps these books helped launch my love affair with gnomes? 
  • William Goldman - "The Princess Bride" rocked my world. If you haven't read it, you need to because it is pure genius. 
  • J.K. Rowling
  • J.R.R. Tolkein - I read "The Hobbit" while camping and backpacking in Yosemite National Park. The redwood forests are a terrific place to to imagine the world of hobbits really exist.
  • Gregory Maguire - "Wicked" was the first and best. All the others he has written are too derivative of the first and don't come close to capturing the magic of his reimagined "Wizard of Oz." 

And just a few that can only be categorized as being the authors of memorable books that help me see the world in different ways:
  • Amy Tan - "The Joy Luck Club" because it and her other books, like those by Lisa See, opened my eyes to the cultural peculiarities of the mother/daughter relationship
  • Mark Salzman - I truly and seriously love the book "The Laughing Sutra" for helping me appreciate the value of adventure for adventure's sake.
  • David McCullough - Who knew history could be so engaging?!
Which authors are on your list? Why? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A pal recently sent me a chain letter, inviting me to share words of inspiration with her and a friend.

"Send a quote? I'm full of quotes!" I thought, so I passed it along with this message to eight friends:

My pal Angie invited me to play Buddhist chain letter. Who can't use a little more inspiration in their lives? (And luckily, you won't die if you don't play.)

Here's how it works.

I'm participating in a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting exchange. It's a one-time thing and I hope you will participate. We have picked people we think would be faithful, and make it fun. Please send an encouraging quote or verse to the person whose name is in position 1 below (even if you don't know him or her). It should be a favorite text verse/motivational poem/prayer/meditation that has lifted you when you were experiencing challenging times. Don't agonize over it--it is one you reach for when you need it or the one that you always turn to.

(Minimally, I invite you send some inspiring love to Angie.)

Imagine two names and email addresses here

After you've sent the short poem/verse/meditation/quote/etc. to the person in position 1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email, move my name to position 1. and put your name in position 2. Only my name and your name should show when you email. Send to 20 friends using BCC. (I can't think of 20 people to send this to! Pick as many as you think is appropriate.) If you cannot do this in five days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating. It's fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas and inspiration. The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once.


I share with you what I received in return. 

1.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Desiderata

2.  Art & Fear:Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.


Sometimes, hidden from me in daily custom and in ritual
I live by you unaware, as if by the beating of my heart.
Suddenly you flare again in my sight
A wild rose at the edge of the thicket where yesterday there was only shade
And I am blessed and choose again,
That which I chose before.

4. See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.

5. "Dear Crazy, Crying Heart" by Barbara Pescan
Oh, my hear
dear foolish on,
sweet crazy keening heart---
Get ready -- hush ---
let the winds sweep clean the hidden corners of your lies
Stop crying and wrap your arms
around that child in htere
the one in the crash helmet
the one with the broken leg
the baby in the dark
the one with the broken heart
the baby knowing its hand for the first time
the child full of milk and lullabies
the child with not food in its belly
It is all God
It is all God
the food         the baby     the hunger
the starfish hand with translucent fingertips
the wrinkles of your face
the memories of seventy years
and knowing your wholeness at another's touch
the brokenness
the cry at the bottom of the mine
the song from the top of the tree
All God, All God
all pouring itself out 
for you, heart
dear crazy crying heart
listen to your song.        Ah.      Amen.

6. "I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will." ~Edward Everett Hale, Unitarian minister

7. Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 

8. Some lines that I love, from Dylan Thomas's Fern Hill (I hope he'll forgive me for chopping his poem down to a few lines):
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea. 

Golden Girl

I'm the golden girl at work right now.

It is both flattering AND extremely uncomfortable.

The flattering needs no explanation. The extremely uncomfortable? I said to my boss this week, "When you are the top, the only way to move is down. I'm not looking to move down right now."

I'm not looking to move down. But given my performance of late, everyone is asking me, "What DO you want to do here?"

I used to want a career. And the attendant power and authority that came with being an Executive Director or CEO. My career ambition in high school? A very modest "to be the first female president of the United States." (Sorry Hillary, but it isn't yet your time.) In fact, I remain $19,000 in student loan debt (down from a high of $90,000, thank you very much) as a result of my pursuit of not one, but a greedy TWO graduate degrees.

But now, when asked this question, I simply respond, "I want to make a positive contribution, and earn  enough money to have a life worth living." I want to travel worry-free, I want to share exciting experiences with my loved ones experiences, I want to have a beautiful home.

So, this golden girl is taking a step back, evaluating her options, and choosing the path that will help her live a robust life without the hassle of a career.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Narcisselfie: A new word

Narcisselfist - someone who shares an irregular number of random self-portrait on social networking sites for no other apparent reason than to passively solicit some sort of empathic reaction from friends both real and virtual. I experience narcisselfists as needy, attention grabbers - regardless of whether the reaction they seek is a "You look mahvelous" or "Gah! I'm so sorry that happened to you!"

I understand selfies taken and posted when something extraordinary is happening - sharing the euphoria of a visit to the Taj Mahal (or the Grand Canyon or even America's Stonehenge), documenting a special date with family or a dear friend, or even showing off a particularly flattering haircut. To me, these selfies are best understood with clear explanations - so no opportunity for misinterpretation of the intent of the photo. "Look! I'm at the Taj Mahal! "lucky" or "Yup, I really DID get my hair chopped off. I love it."

But selfies taken and shared for selfies' sake? I read them as pure, irritating narcissism.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

In a past life...

...I was clearly an animist.

The evidence, you ask?

I intentionally rotate my underpants in the drawer, out of a concern that underpants that might not get as much wear will feel bad because I'm not using them.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why I Love CES

CES, the Consumer Electronic Show, is held in Vegas the first full week in January.

I love CES. Why? Because I'm home alone for eight full days. Hooray!

This is what CES 2014 looks like to me:

  • A rearranged living room - NOW the room makes sense and has more space. I feel like I can fully relax in the space
  • The addition of120 square feet of living space to The Tiny Bungalow by clearing out and organizing the office (hooray)
  • A fridge full of vegetables and vegetarian, whole grain plans for dinner
  • Meals prepared for the next two days 
  • A home lit by candles and table lamps - overhead lighting be gone
  • No football on Sunday (or Monday or Thursday). Instead I watch re-runs of Bridezillas and Criminal Minds. 

I love BMG. I love the home we share together. And truly take appreciate it when he isn't home. I'm an introvert and I need alone time to keep myself centered and whole.

When BMG is away on business, I only have to clean up after myself. The bed is made EXACTLY the way I like it. I don't have to compromise on what I cook for dinner. I have no excuses to not take 100% responsibility for myself (e.g. "I can't go to the gym after work; I need to get home to make BMG dinner"). I watch whatever I want on television, and sleep so much better absent my true love's snoring. I love finding ways to maximize my alone time so I can be a better Clownface when BMG gets home.

What makes CES really perfect is that it happens at the start of the new year, so those reluctant resolutions I have yet to give voice to have the opportunity to spill out. What is on deck for 2014? More vegetarian and whole foods eating, more stretching and meditation, less TV, continued efforts to have a more regular sleep schedule.

Boy do I love CES.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Elf on the Shelf: Savvy Auntie Edition

My sister tells her kids, ages 8 and 6, that the family's semi-feral cat would eat the "Elf on the Shelf." Their cat is a renowned hunter, so the kids believe this is the reason why there is no elf wreaking havoc at their suburban Baltimore home, tattling on the kids to Santa and the elves.

But this does not mean they are off the hook when it comes to good behavior in the weeks leading up the Christmas.

My sister does not need a successful commercial enterprise, masquerading as a Christmas tradition (in spite of being fewer than ten years old), to keep her kids in line during the holidays.

It used to be, before the age of the Internet and cell phones, merely humming a few bars of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was enough to keep Christian children (and their non-secular counterparts) on their best behavior throughout the month of December. When I was a kid we KNEW that he knew if we'd been bad or good, so we had better be good, for goodness sake.

I think children are a little savvier than we were back in the 1970s. And my youngest sister KNOWS her kids are savvy consumers of parental legend.

So every year, right after Thanksgiving, she changes my contact name and photo in her cell phone from "Auntie Clownface" to "Santa Claus."

And then I start getting random text messages and cell phone calls, from my sister, ostensibly to Santa, asking for verification that I am in fact real, that I did in fact shake her son's hand at the local tree lighting ceremony, or I did receive her daughter's light mailed just a week ago. They always start with a "Hi Santa" greeting, so I know it is time to turn on the "ho ho ho." So I glibly reply, savvy auntie that I am, with a recapitulation of her message, affirming that the alleged incident (e.g. shaking Santa's hand at the local tree lighting, or an incident of mischievous behavior at school) did in fact occur, followed by a reminder to the kids to be good because I'm watching them carefully from the North Pole.

I love being able to do this for my sister because she lives 400 miles away, and I rarely have the opportunity to be hands-on in my support of her parenting. I love that this happens effortlessly. One day, maybe three years ago, I randomly received a text addressed to Santa and just picked it up and ran with it. We never rehearse, I never know when a message is coming, and I haven't dropped the ball on her yet.  And nearly 35 years after an early end to my belief in the physical manifestation of Santa, I am still delighted by my child's eye view of Santa and the magic that happens at the North Pole.

Are you a savvy aunts or uncle who celebrates Christmas? I invite you to share this post with the parents of the little ones in your life, and invite them to play along. It is a great way to get the effect of elf on the shelf, without kowtowing to the relentless pressure of developing new, hijinks-fillled tableaus to showcase the elf's worst behavior, and it is a wonderful way for you to be involved in your siblings' Christmas traditions beyond gift giving.