Magpie Meditation: Reset

I’ve been in an unmindful hurry in the last few months. rushing to be creative, introspective, helpful, attentive, and healthy.  With the best of intentions I  spread myself too thin. In hindsight I see how, in increments, I knocked myself right out of balance.

I work three days a week.  On those days it is my job to be there for people who are in difficult life situations. I provide a safe, accepting environment in which people can examine their thoughts ad feelings and make the changes they want  to make in their lives. It is an unbelievably  rewarding career. I have learned more from those who have walked through my office door than I could ever express in words.

On the four days I do not work one might think I  had   plenty of time  to break out of professional mode, put on my sweats and….read, write, cook, daydream, garden, blog, ….an organic, rejuvenating flow of energy.  On paper it works nicely. In reality, on my days off I still have to answer work calls, schedule doctor’s appointments, and wait for the cable man.  On some days off I may still be  so tired from the three long days I have  worked that it is a struggle to be as creative as  I would like to be.

Shouldn't you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

Shouldn’t you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

I was juggling it all flexibly enough until  late October 2013 when  I impulsively signed up for  my first NaNoWriMo challenge.  All of November I hunted and I pecked and I came up with the required number of words. I loved, loved, loved, participating in NaNoWriMo. And what do I have now? I have a teeny tiny little novel that needs big editing. I’m convinced that my characters deserve to be brought to life in print, where they will be loved and cherished by all.  With all the pride of a new mother, I think my baby book is  uncommonly beautiful.

Now, on my “off” days I am  trying to teach myself what we do after we write a draft of a novel. Do I know what I am doing? Not at all.  Do I have a writing group? Not at all. I spend my time reading books about writing books, searching on the internet for what to do with a book manuscript, and on the actual editing of the book. Also, for a person with the technical skills of the main character in The Gods Must Be Crazy, being gifted with a new computer for Christmas proved a mixed blessing. I can’t tell you what  all the problems have been because it will cause flashbacks of my having talked to every single Apple support employee, except to say that I did not have Pages ’09, and therefore  for a time could not open up my poor little book on the new laptop. Sigh.

On a more serious note, in  the middle of the frenetic NaNoWriMo month,  I learned that a very close friend, not a blogger, has  a life threatening illness. I spoke with her on a Tuesday while  she was getting ready for work. By Saturday of that same week, after an emergency room visit for severe pain, she had a diagnosis and was meeting with her treatment team. While she wasn’t looking, she left her old life and started a new one. The gods really MUST be crazy.

Even now when I say to myself that she is sick, part of me says, “No she’s not.” But she is. For now she is doing well, but still has a hard uncertain road ahead. Though her illness is not my story, my role as her friend has changed. I need to gather strength in order to be a person who to whom she can  say anything, especially those things she cannot say elsewhere. I need to pay attention in order to be a person who steps in when needed, and out when not. I need to be a person who does not always treat my friend as though she is a sick person.    I need to be honest with myself in order to  accept my powerlessness to change the progression or outcome of her illness.  I am honored to assume these roles, but of necessity I have had to learn them on the fly.

The realities of the last few months  left me feeling frantic on days when I was not working, longing to be alone, and to be needed by no one SO I COULD  GET SOME WORK DONE!!!!  Yet when  alone, I did not experience the peace I and contentment I sought. Fear that I would run out of time on this earth, that I would never be able  to learn and do all I want caused me to try to wring every productive moment out of every day. When was I going to get around to editing my book? Knitting? Working on my new scrapbook? What about that online photography class I needed so sorely? When would I research my trip to Paris? What about my blog post?   I began to feel overwhelmed with that dread that says “You should be _________ right now.”

  I do know better than to try to be a “human doing”. Because of my vulnerability  I must have deluded myself into thinking that because I enjoy learning, making, and doing, that it would be appropriate to do them all at a breakneck pace without savoring the individual moments.  I worked myself into ignoring the part where I was going ninety miles an hour. I’ve been here before.  But apparently  learning to just be is one of those life lessons  I am destined  to learn over and over again.

The funny thing is how I came to notice all of this. I knew I felt  unsettled, not right.  Good  detective work on my part. But guess what my solution was? I TRIED TO ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO MY SCHEDULE WITHOUT ASKING ME!!!!!!! That’s right folks; I decided that just a few minutes of scheduled meditation, along with study of same, would bring me back to a peaceful place. Part of the absurdity of this is that I purely cannot stand for my time to be  taken up, even if it is taken up by me. I want to do what I want to do WHEN I want to do it.

So when I tried to implement my ill conceived  plan, I heard the most distinct voice inside myself saying,”NO. NO. NO. This is the problem. YOU are the problem.” At least that time, if not for the preceding weeks, I did listen. And I knew I had to start back at the beginning. For me, that means with a notebook and pen. That means every day, not just some days. That means asking me what I want to do, and listening to the answer. It means that once I check in with myself, I have accomplished the most important task of the day. Whatever I do afterwards I will do  more mindfully by default. That’s what matters.

Where the rubber meets the road. Source: caps.umich.edy

Where the rubber meets the road.
Source: caps.umich.edy

I am a few days into my reset now. Once I attend to myself through my journal I find I am quite ready and willing to meditate. Though everyone’s experience is individual, I can report feeling less rushed and less anxious.  When I breathe I am aware of more  inner space. I am also aware of a deep weariness in my shoulders. What better way could my body tell me I need to let go?

I am still busy, but I am busy differently. Busy noticing. Busy being. Busy starting over and feeling more balanced.  I will never have time to do everything that interests me. I will never be able to control the passing of time.  But however I do spend my time, I want to feel alive and present in that moment, for it will never come again. It is comforting to know that if from time to time I veer off of the  course I  want to follow that I can simply reset.

What about you? Do you ever need a reset? And if so, what works for you?

Dear Pen Pal

It’s March in Memphis, as evidenced by temperatures in the high 60s yesterday followed by predictions of a quarter inch of ice tonight. I’ve learned not to get too excited over predictions of winter weather here, especially this year when seemingly all our snow predictions have dwindled into just more swirling brown leaves at the curb. Luckily I have the March 2014 30 Days of Lists to keep me company. I completed this challenge once before in 2013 and found, to my surprise, that I was able to complete the entire month. My success inspired me so  that I decided that I could probably also complete NaNoWriMo in 30 days, and I did.

So when I saw the 30 Days of Lists announced  again of course I accepted, for who knows where it may lead me? I’ve done it for the two days of March, and so far it has led me  right to… the fourth grade! Today’s list prompt was to describe yourself to a pen pal. I like to follow these prompts as soon as I read them, writing the first thing that comes to mind. Here is what came to mind:

Does anyone else my age remember entering contests as a child? As I recall there were often contests involving prizes or giveaways. One contest was the Happy Hal Secret Toy Contest, in which you sent in your name and address, and Happy Hal, on his show, would draw the name of some lucky boy or girl to win the  toy of the week. And once a year he had the BIG giveaway, in which a child got to go in his toy warehouse for some predetermined amount of time and CHOOSE WHATEVER HE WANTED!!!!!!!

 The Happy Hal Show Source:

The Happy Hal Show Source:

I am sure I begged my mother to enter me, her most suitable child, in the contest, but whether she did  or not I do not know. The truth is that by  the time I was in elementary school I was starting to notice a disturbing pattern in my mother’s behavior. More and more it seemed, she was  willfully not following my directions. Clearly, with nothing more to do than all the cooking , cleaning, shopping, sewing, laundry, ironing, and child care in our home, she could easily have complied with my wishes.   I felt it necessary to remind her repeatedly of what I expected her to do, a strategy which did not always yield positive results, but that I was willing to proceed with if it meant I would eventually win the Secret Toy Contest.

On one occasion, my hounding must have paid off, for  when I was in the second grade she sent in my letter and picture to the Memphis Commercial Appeal to the Pen Pal of The Week Column. Oh, I was  the smug one at school for a time, for one of these days, all my classmates and teachers would open the paper and there I’d be, a celebrity from one end of the Mid South to the other. But when week after week passed without my picture in the paper,  I concluded the Commercial Appeal choosers were not going to select  me for Pen Pal of the Week.

The second grade passed, and the the third. I began to lobby my Mother for more sophisticated favors, such as having her take  me to see The Beatles. Sharon, a girl on my street whose father played the drums, got to see them, but I did not. I would have had a better chance at winning the Secret Toy Contest, now that I think about it.

Before I knew it I was in the fourth grade, writing flowery poetry modeled after ideas I’d read about in Little Women.   I argued my case with my teacher that I be given the lead part in a play about  a Christmas tree. After school most days I rode my bicycle  over to a vacant wooded strip of land in our neighborhood where my friends and I swung on hanging vines. I was confident that I could achieve the fame I wanted on my own, without depending upon my mother to sign me up for contests.

I was sophisticated, all right.

I was sophisticated, all right.

And then. THEN. Out of nowhere, with no warning, the Commercial Appeal published my second grade letter and picture in The Pen Pal of the Week. I had to go to school to be greeted by jeering fourth and fifth graders calling, “Hey, Pen Pal of the Week!” ” Tell us about your pets and pretty clothes!!!” What an intolerable humiliation! The paper might as well have published a picture of me as a baby, naked in a bathtub!

The damning evidence!

The damning evidence!

Not only was the picture out of date, although they had adjusted my age which just made me look even more babyish, but so was the two year old letter which stated among other things that my favorite subject was Math! What had I been thinking in the second grade? By now I had established myself as such a mediocre math student that Mary Ellen Somebody had to quiz me on my multiplication tables before school. Whoever I had been in the second grade, I was someone else now.

This was all my Mother’s fault for letting the paper do this. But my mother did not have to wait for the school bus after school, nor did she have to ride it. No, she was at home playing innocent! Once again the butt of jokes by these insufferable boys, including my own sixth grade brother, I took matters into my own hands one at a time, whacking them repeatedly with my purse.

Reenactment. Do not attempt this at home!

Reenactment. Do not attempt this at home!

Somehow I made it home on the bus, and home from the bus stop. Getting home from the bus stop could be tricky, in that it was a long run home if one were being pursued by one’s sixth grade brother. But I did get home, and maybe not that day, but in a few days there were letters – I don’t remember how many in all  – from second graders!

I wish I had kept or could even remember the letters. Away from nasty, sweaty, fourth grade boys with crew cuts with their derisive comments, in the partial privacy of the room I shared with my sister, I was FAMOUS. I had the letters to prove it. But I was conflicted. I loved receiving the letters, but public opinion was against me now. What did I want with letters from second graders who loved arithmetic? I had enough to deal with having to share a room with a first grader! I know I did answer one letter from a girl in Rosedale Mississippi, because I remember writing, “Rosedale Mississippi reminds me of Rosedale peaches in cling syrup.”  ( A brand we ate regularly)  I think I thought that if I sounded sarcastic and rude the younger child would realize I was out of her league  and buzz off. I wonder if my Mother mailed that letter?

It’s the Real Thing

Hi Everybody! The Magpie is BACK after spending November, the month of Thanksgiving, typing furiously as well as inaccurately, which I know how to do at the same time, on my NaNoWroMo novel. I seem to have come out the other side with few ill effects except for realizing that I had been washing my hair with conditioner and wearing my bedroom slippers with the cardboard inserts still inside. What will become of my little novel? Thanks so much for asking. At the moment I plan to correct the typos and save it as a PDF so that a few carefully selected persons can read it. After that, I don’t know.

Naturally the NaNoWriMo experience has changed me. I am flooded with gratitude to all the authors out there who have slaved throughout history to create imaginary worlds for me to inhabit. I cannot even begin to count how my life has been enriched from their efforts which have allowed me to   know unforgettable characters, to identify  with their struggles, and to become  a part of their lives. Do not  say their lives aren’t real. YES THEY ARE!  And how I have mourned when a beloved tale has ended, for I was not ready to say goodbye.

I have greedily taken in all these riches provided to me by hard working men and women of vision and perseverance just the way I imagine ancient Romans used to feast at their ….parties, as though there were no tomorrow. That is no problem in itself; I consider daily reading to be a necessity, not a luxury. Read, read, for tomorrow we may die, I believe the saying goes.

But where I find fault with myself is in my not having been able to  see what very hard work it is  for these authors to craft their collections of words and sentences. Previously, after polishing off a book, I would say with a dismissive sniff something like, ” This author has used the word magnificent five times already”, or, “I can see where this plot is going. Is this author trying to insult my prodigious intelligence with this elementary story?”  And here’s the most infamous one of all ,”I could have written this.” NOT!!!!!  Readers, I have  now seen the light. Even a so- so, run of the mill, no brainer story requires serious work!

My second big NaNoWriMo change is a renewed appreciation for those who read what I write. In today’s  WordPress forum, reading a post is even more work than ever because of all the buttons one must push to get to the original post, a procedure which, like a long line at the grocery store, gives one time to decide if he REALLY wants to read this post. I did not formerly take readers for granted; no, I have been thrilled to have anything of mine read. However,  while writing for NaNoWriMo I came to see how important it is for a writer to have some feedback from the audience. I found myself wondering how readers would react to the creative decisions I made. That is why I am so eager, even hungry, for someone to read my little NaNoWriMo and meet my characters. They’re real, you know.

When I finally hit the “validate” button on the NaNoWriMo site this year, I did not know what to do with myself. Suddenly it was December. It began to sink in with me that I am traveling a lot this December and that I actually just had one day to Christmas shop and had no ideas of what to shop for. My poor tortured spirit, so depleted after my monumental authorly marathon, rebelled. It demanded to connect to something more real, more authentic than chasing around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to purchase and give away material items to folks who don’t really need anything. Really, Christmas shopping is no substitute for the thrill of writing.

So of course, I grabbed for a very comforting something real: a book series that I have already read. I am sure you all have your favorite go-to, read-again books. But in the spirit of gratitude I am sharing one of mine. Who knows when you may need to take refuge from the unrealistic expectations and disgusting commercialism that make up the holiday season?


You may be familiar with Louise Penny’s well written Inspector Gamache detective series which takes place mainly in a tiny Canadian village called Three Pines. Why do I love it so? The main draw for me is how the author draws me in and makes me long to jump in my car and drive without stopping the 36 or so hours it would take me to get to this ancient village, where all the inhabitants seem to be sitting by a warm fire, drinking hot chocolate and saying words in a sexy French accent.

If you were to join me in Three Pines we could stay at the Bed and Breakfast run by an engaging  gay couple, Gabrí and Olivier,  where we would be served gourmet meals while we discussed who could have committed the most recent murder. We might be interviewed by Inspector Gamache, the honorable, perceptive Head of the Sûreté de Quebec, who prizes above all the ability to listen in order to solve a crime. And his ability to quote poetry by heart is a definite plus. That evening we would be invited to the home of one of the local citizens, perhaps that of Myra Landers, the  caftan clad retired psychologist who runs a used bookstore. Other guests would include  foul mouthed Ruth Zardo, the eminent poet, and the artists Clara and Peter Morrow. Dinner would consist of a simple but hearty stew with a crusty French bread and local wine, followed by cheese, fruit, and coffee.

After all my NaNoWriMo frenzy,  nothing would have suited me better than to be taken into the arms of the Three Pines residents. Ah, how they would congratulate me for committing myself to the NaNoWriMo project; I would bask in their approval. After our dinner at Myra’s we would walk through the snowy white wonderland of the village, our boots crunching in the  silent snow. Gabrí, one of the Bed and  Breakfast proprietors, would be waiting up to serve us a snifter of brandy. Then it would be time to go upstairs to sleep in one of the antique beds with its crisp white linen. We would sleep soundly until awoken by the heady aroma of fresh baked croissants and maple cured Canadian bacon cooking on the stove.



I would love to say I would meet you in the town where my own novel takes place, but I don’t yet dare to have such lofty dreams. But if you are game, and want a cozy place to recuperate because of the holidays, or because you have taken the trouble to read my blog posts, I would love to meet you in Three PInes, Monsieur.( Or Mademoiselle, but Monsieur sounds so much more cosmopolitan.)  Come, let us begin to memorize some poetry to recite when we meet Inspector Gamache! Yes, he is real!