"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The wonder of putting pen to paper

A long, long time ago, I purchased a copy of A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves (my friend from the Southern California Writers Conference). It's a lovely collection of writing advice, along with a writing prompt for each day. I read the book, loved the advice, but couldn't bring myself to tackle the prompts.

Until now.

Judy has released a new edition of the WBoD, which got a great review in O.C. Writers*, so I dug out my old original, turned to January 1 and thought, eh, why not try these prompts? And why wait until January? 

So on August 17, I began with "Write about a Sunday afternoon."

I'm now almost through January and it is nothing like I thought it would be. I believed I'd turn every prompt into some kind of "Dear Diary" entry, where I would make each session about me and my life. That would bore me to tears and I probably could not finish the prompts under those conditions.

Instead, it feels like magic.


When I open the book in the morning, I look at the prompt, nestle into the pillows on the daybed in my office, and set the tip of my pen onto the paper. And I never know what's going to come out until it appears. Sometimes I am writing a diary entry. Some prompts end up as essays on life, spirituality, whatever. Fiction, both flash and pieces of the book I'm writing, come along. What surprises me most are the poems.

Who knew?

None of them are perfect, and they're not meant to be. They're the motor oil to my engine, the grease in my cogs, the lubricant that energizes my creative soul. They are my reminder that I write because it is a joy and a privilege to do so. 

Here's a link to Judy's book, via Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (because we should support our indies): https://www.mystgalaxy.com/book/9781577319368

And here's a poem. The prompt is "Write about leaving."

It is spring and
    the tree puts out leaves.
It is leaving.
In the fall, the leaves turn color, turn brown
   They leave the tree.
I do not have leaves,
   But I extend the tender shoots
      Of who I am,
        Kindness and cruelty,
           Healing and pain,
             Creativity and sloth.
I watch the tree and do not kid myself.
My shoots are not infinite,
   And someday, I too, shall be leaving.

*Link to the review at OC Writers: https://oc-writers.com/2020/08/17/marissas-take-on-a-writers-book-of-days-a-spirited-companion-lively-muse-for-the-writing-life-revised-edition-by-judy-reeves/

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sometimes I do stupid things that work

 I suppose that makes them not-stupid things, but they feel stupid at the time.

I'm always on a quest for self-improvement, self-enlightenment, self-mo-bettering. I want to always be much muchier than I am. To that end, I read books and meditate and try stuff to add to my spiritual umph. 


One of the things I was reading said to say five positive things aloud before you go to sleep. This proved difficult because not only couldn't I think of five positive things when I'm exhausted and want to go to sleep, I tend to be focused on sleep and forget that I'm supposed to be doing anything else.


Serendipity stepped in with a blog (God help me, I forgot which blog it was) that listed TEN positive statements for writers. It recommended saying them aloud first thing in the morning, which was much more doable. I printed them out, set them next to my bed, and went to sleep.

In the morning, after I had done the must-do morning stuff (pee, feed the dogs, stretch my arthritic joints), I sat down, picked up the statements and read them. Aloud.

Let me state for the record that I felt distinctly stupid. Reading "I" messages out loud embarrassed the poop out of me. I even scoffed and argued with a couple. ("Today I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy. Oh, really?")

Regardless (and I don't care if they're adding it to the dictionary, irregardless is NOT a word), I kept getting up every morning and stating these ten positive statements aloud. I read them until I'd memorized them. Then I said them again.

After a few weeks, the damnedest thing happened: I started to feel their truth in my bones. Four of the ten began to live in me all the damned time! They were:

1. I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents. I was now actively choosing what kind of messages I let into my head and heart each day.

2. A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love. This completely changes my response to rude people!

3. Happiness is a choice I make every day. Remember that thing about choosing my own contents? Yep.

4. My body is healthy, my mind is brilliant, and my soul is tranquil. Is there anything else I need?

I admit, I still feel pretty stupid saying things aloud, even when I'm saying them alone, within the closed confines of my office. But one by one, they're all starting to "stick." I even added two more that I felt I needed to hear.


Before anyone asks, here they are. I apologize for not being able to credit the original author, but if anyone recognizes them, hit me up and I'll edit this! In the meantime, tailor them to fit your needs. And as always, your mileage may vary.

A Dozen Positive Declarations For Your Life

1. I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents.

2. Today I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy.

3. My body is healthy, my mind is brilliant, and my soul is tranquil.

5. I forgive those who have hurt me in my past, and peacefully detach from them.

6. My body is active; I love to move.

7. A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love.

8. I have been given endless talents which I utilize daily.

9. My writing is growing, expanding, and thriving.

10. Creative energy surges through me and leads me to new and brilliant ideas.

11. I do the work to take my natural talent to new heights.

12. Happiness is a choice I make every day.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Reflections on a horse show

I normally post horse stuff on Snoopy's blog, but I haven't figured out quite what to do about that, now that Snoopy is living la vida grande at the retirement home and horse shows involve my new horse, Dhani.

I feel like a traitor.

But this post is about more than just showing my horse. It's about perception and expectation and trying to see one tree when it's the forest that's in view.

I was excited to go to the Sun and Surf Circuit in Del Mar. I love Del Mar. Niki and I usually have a great time, the arenas are nice, and there's a couple of restaurants I enjoy (perhaps a little too much). Got my bags all packed by Tuesday night, loaded up Wednesday and off we went. I was showing on Thursday and Saturday, and Niki was showing on Friday.

On Thursday, Dhani was a little "on the muscle" -- that is, he wanted to GO. There were seven obstacles. Throughout each obstacle, I got him to the correct line, felt confident that we were doing well, then over the last pole, I'd hear "thunk." He hit it with his back foot. Every. Freaking. Obstacle. At the end, we had to walk through a gate, over a pole. He actually stood on the pole with one delicate hoof.

No, this does not count as an "extra." My placing and my scores reflected the go. Not good.

On Saturday, I vowed to do better. It was a horrible warm-up. I felt like my legs weren't pushing into him enough, I couldn't get him to lift his back and legs. He was clunking one pole in everything I tried. I was fighting for everything. I went into the arena on the verge of tears.

The first obstacle was my nemesis from Thursday, the gate with the pole. Dhani crept toward it, bent his body around the gate, picked his feet up oh-so-carefully, and walked on. I was heartened. For, like, 20 seconds. This time, I think he hit poles on four of the seven obstacles. The obstacle I worried about the least ended up looking sloppy because he kept taking a baby stride before going over the pole (also known as "chipping"). The obstacle that I had practiced and practiced, he acted like he'd never done before, so I ended up dragging him around it. By the time we got to the backup, he was sullen and I was teary-eyed again. We at least finished with a lovely walk over the last poles.

Niki tried to tell me that a lot of it was good, but I didn't want to hear it. She reminded me that this was my first show in the upper division, which I knew, but I discounted it. I was upset. 

"We aren't getting any better," I told her.

"Yes you are getting better," she said. "The courses are getting harder."

She reminded me of all the mistakes I used to make that I didn't make. I found my lines, I steered my horse, I was able to correct him in the moment. I kept him moving forward. I focused.

I took everything in that she was saying and thought, "Okay. Sure. But I still sucked."

Until I saw my score sheets. Yes, I was penalized for all the poles he hit, but I got a lot of plus points for doing some things well. My scores were high. I even got 3rd place from one judge!

My expectation was that, because I'd been improving at the lower level, I'd continue that trajectory when things got harder. That was incorrect. Harder means you start building again.

My perception was that I had done a horrible job on the course. That was incorrect, at least in the judges' minds. I'm always going to be more critical of my performance than anyone else is.

I was so focused on doing it PERFECTLY that I could not see past my mistakes. That was unfortunate, because I forgot to go out and have fun seeing what Dhani and I could do together.

What did I learn? That expectation is a joy-killer, perception needs time to cook properly, and you should always remind yourself of your intention before you dive into anything.

I feel better now.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The truth about parenthood

First of all, I'm hoping that my son never reads my blog. I don't want to burden him with this. 

A friend of mine posted a photo of his delightful young daughter with the comment that she's growing up. I still see her as a little girl, but I'm certain he recognizes a look in her eye, an expression that says, "I just found a corner and turned it."

He reminded me of some random writing--scribbling, really--that I'd done a few weeks before. I was sitting on the patio, having wine and listening to one of my son's YouTube live concerts. Here's what I wrote:

"I notice that wine makes me reflective and melancholy and given to fits of poignancy and sadness, but champagne makes me drunk on happy and giddy.

I love my son so much and he fills me with fear. I fear 'losing' him--that he's found his life as an adult and he's living it and there's only a tiny corner of it for me. And I knew that was the deal. I knew he was a treasure I wasn't supposed to keep, but it's so hard so hard to be a mom and have your world centered on them and theirs on you, and then the balance shifts and they are THEIR OWN. I'm happy and proud and sad and afraid. I'm all the feels."

This is what it's like to be a parent. Forget diapers and scraped knees and schoolwork and lessons. This is what it's like to get to the end of your gigantic usefulness to them, and become more of an advice columnist with an opinion they can listen to or discard. You think it's going to be relaxing and fun. It is, but...it isn't.

This is what it's like to follow this parental path, follow it all the way down to sea, to where they've swum beyond your safety buoy and are out there looking reckless but planting safety buoys of their own, after they've discovered what's dangerous. That ocean is huge, and you always fight the fear that you'll never be able to find them again, and that they're too busy swimming to look for you. 

And that's the way it's supposed to be.

I also hope my friend with the daughter doesn't read this. I don't think I want him to know just yet.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A big post from the little lady

I've had this post rattling around in my brain for at least a month, if not more, and I'm trying to make the words come out like Goldilocks' opinion of Baby Bear's stuff: juuuusssstttt right. We shall see, says my inner cynic.


This is a story of two of my friends, my separate interactions with them, and what it all means.

I have one friend who is as big-hearted as the African sky, but completely clueless when it comes to people who are not white and middle-class like her. Her family was that sadly rather stereotypical white family that naturally believed all the stereotypical crap about Black/Hispanic/Muslim/Jewish/Other families because they didn't have any contact with the Other to make them question their beliefs. Like I said, she is clueless, but she has a genuine fondness for all people, even when she puts her foot in her mouth.

When we are together, I get to educate her about the perils of being Black in America, even though I am white. I explain why Black Lives Matter. I explain having to teach my son how to survive a traffic stop. I explain why it frightens me to imagine calling 911 if we ever had an intruder because I don't want the police to assume the black guy is the burglar and shoot my husband. I describe being pulled over outside of Amarillo for doing 74 in a 70-mph zone and being Naive White Girl, arguing with the cop while Dale continually poked me in the ribs, whispering, "Shut up and take the ticket."

When she describes a situation that at least started badly for her, I ask her, "Do you want to know why that person thought it was offensive?" Her answer is always, "Yes."

Her heart and mind are open to change, even if it comes slowly, and I love that about her.

My other friend was not raised in that kind of bubble. She lived in a very diverse community and her parents always had visitors of other races, colors, and creeds. I will say, as an aside, that her family was more upper middle-class, but I don't hold that against her.

She told me a story of a woman in her volunteer organization who is the only black woman in a very white group. The woman expressed frustration that she was never listened to, she was talked over, that her ideas were dismissed, and ended with the statement that she couldn't help but feel this group was racist.

My friend described to me HER outrage at being called racist, and that she informed the woman she could not be more wrong. She listed all the ways she had not been raised to "see color" and would not stand for being called such an ugly term.

*Insert heavy sigh here* 

Basically, my friend invalidated this poor woman's feelings and made her feel even worse about the situation. It would not surprise me if that woman left the organization.

Which leads me to... *Insert big breath* declaring that I am a racist.

Do I feel like a racist? No. I see the differences in people and I love them, I applaud them, I want to learn about different cultures. I treat everyone as the individual I believe they are and not part of some collective "them." I'm still naive--I look for the good in everyone I meet. Of course, I also try to take Maya Angelou's advice, and believe who people are the first time they show me.

(Oh, and BTW, I don't care how you define your sexuality or who you love/marry/have sex with, as long as it's consensual. It's SOOOOO none of my business. Just give me your pronouns and I'll do my best.)

But I was not raised this way, and I must commit myself to accepting the label. Why? Because someday I will open my mouth and say something stupid. I'm guessing it will be out of ignorance (I can't imagine being malicious). Some phrase or term I got from my childhood and carried forward without knowing its meaning. Something that will make someone accuse me of racism.

And I don't want to immediately fight back and end the dialogue. I want to be able to apologize and ask how I can make amends. I want to do better.

Thanks for reading.

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