It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I’m reading a great book right now! I’ll rephrase that. Of the six or seven great books I’m reading simultaneously, one relates to the following story I have to share.

I’m reading “I Can See Clearly Now” by Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of my favorite authors. I’m reading it on my Kindle, on my phone via the Kindle app, and I’m listening to it on Audible in my car as I drive north, south, east and west for my various adventures and social engagements.

In a recent chapter, Dr. Dyer tells the story of a final exam he took in a graduate course where he’d studied, as I did in college, Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs and “self-actualization”; the highest need. The professor gave the class a question and asked them to write an essay, giving them thirty minutes to complete the assignment. The question went something like this, “A self-actualized man attended a party. When he arrived everyone was in slacks, jackets, and ties. The self-actualized man was in jeans, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes. What did the self-actualized man do?” The entire class wrote their essays, all taking nearly the entire thirty minutes, filling page after page with carefully constructed details. When the professor returned, he asked each student to read their essay aloud. Each essay was roughly the same, stating that the man acted on confidence and didn’t feel self-conscious about his non-conforming attire. The professor told the class that everyone, in jest, had failed the exam.  The question could be answered in exactly three words; he didn’t notice.

Self-actualizers, among many other characteristics, have a comfortable acceptance of self and others. They are also reliant on their own experiences and judgment, they are independent and don’t rely on culture and environment to form opinions or views. A self-actualized man would not make notice of his attire in comparison to the other party attendees. There would be no comparison of self to others; the self-actualizer is completely fulfilled, comparisons of self to others are unnecessary.

I went to a party this weekend, a masquerade ball, to be exact, at a popular winery in Sonoma. I was invited to the function as a member of a MeetUp group I am active with, a women’s networking group. I saw in the excerpt describing the party that it was a costume party and quickly scanned the list of attendees. A great group of gals were planning to attend, so without reading any further, I clicked “Yes!”,  added the event to my calendar, and purchased the $65 ticket online, as one of the very few details I did read said the event was likely to sell out fast. I was committed.

A couple of weeks before the event, the same group of ladies had an impromptu happy hour gathering at a restaurant nearby. I attended and we all chatted about many things over snacks and sparkling wine. With the masquerade ball fast approaching, the topic of costumes came up. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and I had only a few very vague costume ideas in mind. I had not even begun the process of deciding, making, acquiring, or purchasing. When asked, I mentioned that I had a great black dress that I have worn as a costume, playing the role of Morticia Addams from the Addams Family. I also had in mind a zombie school girl outfit I could assemble from wardrobe items on hand. The group organizer informed me that the masquerade ball was actually an eighteenth century masquerade ball and that our costumes should be reflective of that period. She then mentioned that her costume was going to be a twist on that theme, and would be “steam punk”. I am aware of “steam punk”, and had a quick visual image of how she might incorporate that with an eighteenth century ball gown.

I wasn’t too worried. I happen to have an entire storage unit full of beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. Okay, only the top layer of my storage unit is beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. I really need to go through that storage unit and get rid of stuff, but, thank you “universe”, for making me a procrastinator; I haven’t purged the ball gowns. You just never know when you’ll need a formal ball gown, right? They were my daughters, from a youth group she was active in during high school. Fortunately for me, I’ve shrunk, deliberately and with considerable effort and discipline, over the past several years and there is a good chance theses ball gowns will fit me. If not, there is, somewhere in that storage unit, an old Jessica McClintock dress in a very forgiving size that I’m sure I can make work. While I totally embrace minimalism, there are still remnants of the former quasi-hoarder lifestyle I escaped from a half a decade ago. Like ball gowns and dresses from the 1970’s. The universe works in very mysterious ways, or, perhaps, it’s just a freaky coincidence. Anyway, I’m not worried, in the least, about having a costume for the ball. 

The day of the party arrives. I’ve selected the best fitting dress of the lot, and, of them all, my all-time favorite. I’ve made my own mask, which I’m quite proud of, it matches the unique orange sherbet color of my dress precisely. I am feeling so beautiful and confident and perfectly outfitted for the event, I can hardly wait to arrive. In fact, I am so eager, I arrive a full forty minutes early. I select a very strategic parking space in the gravel lot so I won’t have to walk too far in my lovely sherbet orange, ornately sequined, taffeta and tulle gown.

Scarlette Begonia

I sit in my car and wait for my girlfriends to arrive. And, as I sit and wait, I observe other early arrivers as they emerge from their cars. There is a man in a powder wig. Excellent. There is another man in a top hat, he looks like Abraham Lincoln almost! Perfect. A woman exits a car in black slacks and a purple and red striped tunic top. With a mask. What? More people begin to arrive and woman after woman after woman, I observe in slacks, maxi dresses, and LBD’s (little black dresses), some, quite slutty. Cute, but slutty, and, most definitely not eighteenth century ball room, masquerade ball, style dresses. I am comparing my brilliant orange, sparkly affair with the outfits of all the other women I see. I am near frantic. I glance at the clock. I live on the very western edge of Napa, if I push the speed limit, I could make it home, change my clothes and be back before the festivities begin. I seriously consider it. But, then, I remember, my girlfriends are all going to be dressed appropriately for an eighteenth century masquerade ball. We’ve discussed this. I’m cool. I hang. I continue to watch. I continue to watch and to compare myself to every other female who arrives. After about one hundred LBD’s, carefully paired with stiletto heels and a cute mask, I see one woman, about ten years my elder, arrive in a period-appropriate dress. Ok.

I never see any of my girlfriends arrive, but, it is getting darker and I am trying to observe most of this action in the rear view mirror of my car. I check the MeetUp app to see if anyone has posted their arrival in the comments section. Nothing. I see several more LBD’s arrive and no other period-appropriate dresses. Again, I glance at the clock on my dashboard; if I left right now, went home, changed and drove back, I’d be 23 minutes late for the official beginning of the party, which is known as fashionably late. I’d be fashionably late and I’d more fashionably fit in.

Why do we have such an innate desire to “fit in”? I am consumed by this need and why it isn’t at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I don’t know. I think “fitting in” fits in to “love/belonging” and “esteem” rungs in Maslow’s hierarchy. But it isn’t at the top. Apparently, I’m not a self-actualizer. Yet. That’s a crowd I’d like to fit in to. Sigh.

More LBD’s, more black maxi-dresses, all with masks, though. Hoo-fucking-ray for the masks! None of them are orange, though, like mine, they’re all black. I seriously consider forfeiting the cost of the ticket and just going home, having a glass of wine, and continuing my study of self-actualization. I check the MeetUp app again to see if anyone has commented. That moment when you realize you’re the only one in bright orange taffeta and tulle.

The party begins in a few minutes and the organizer has commented, “Here!” Much like my RSVP to this event, I send of a rapid fire response, “OMG! Everyone is in LBD’s and I look like the frickin’ queen!” No reply. At least I have ridiculously dressed friends at the event, they’ve somehow eluded my watchful eye in their corsets and bustles, their taffeta and tulle, their colors and sequins. I am emboldened. A little. I extricate myself from my Civic, which is no easy feat. The tram has arrived and I step aboard. There are four rows of seats in the tram, each wide enough for three humans, unless, of course, they are in a period-appropriate dress. I take up an entire row and am trailing orange sherbet colored tulle behind me as we speed up the paved drive towards the winery.

Everyone on the tram is in black and modern attire, except one woman, probably twenty years my senior; she is in a period-appropriate dress. It’s black, though. But, at least we can both fret with our hoops and corsets and bustles, exiting the tram, in tandem.

The tram pulls up to the winery where a crowd has assembled, awaiting the lowering of the chain across the entrance. The party has not, apparently, officially begun. I gracefully slide off the tram seat and alight on the ground. My taffeta and tulle catch up with me several seconds later, in their brilliant sequined orange. There is a hush over the crowd and every head turns. “Hello.”

I hold my head up high, I smile, I make eye contact, and I frantically look for a recognizable face. Where are my ridiculously dressed friends? Where is the wine?

Scarlette Begonia

I find the wine, thank the lord. Our group organizer finds me, in her “steam punk” dress, which is actually an LBD with some anitique-ish looking accessories that could be argued as period-appropriate. She looks so gosh-darned cute, and sexy, and pretty, and I look like the Great Pumpkin from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. The organizer brought her friend with her. I’ve met her before, she’s super fun and funny and cute, with a delightful accent. I suck at accents, but it’s from somewhere cool, I’m certain. She is in an even L’erBD, with lace and leather and barely covered body bits, and a mask, of course. More wine, please.

I am having a very difficult time navigating the crowd with my very fluffy skirt. My daughter is a full four inches shorter than I, so I am struggling with why the skirt is dragging on the floor for me and it didn’t for her. I’m not good at physics, or trigonometry, oh, wait, that’s triangles, geometry, then, I guess, but I think it has something to do with the circumference of the hoop. Pi, or the square root of pi, or some derivative of, I don’t know. I do know that people keeping stepping on my tulle train which immediately halts any forward motion I am attempting. My daughter’s lovely pumpkin dress cost $500. I know, I bought it, and I really, really, really don’t want to ruin it, though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever wear it again, anywhere. My mom, ever  ready for the worst case scenario, which, in my estimation, just paves the way for the worst to manifest, left, on the kitchen counter, for me, a ten-year old bottle of chemical wonder called “red wine stain remover”. So far, they have only poured bubbly, here. Per the event program, red wine is on the third floor. I love red wine, but I may seek to avoid, at the event, and just imbibe in the bottle of Zinfandel I have on my desk, when I get home. I may just stick to the first floor, all bubbly, and I won’t have to navigate the stairs or commandeer the tiny elevator, me, my skirt, and I.

My gal pals and I head for the Bubble Room, on the first floor, where they remove jackets and other outer garments to further reveal the beauty of their eighteenth century as interpreted by the twenty-first century costumes. And masks, of course. They both sit, easily, in the chairs. I move to sit in a neighboring chair, my ass hits the seat a full several seconds before my abundance of tulle settles around me. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle that is me. I smile confidently and adjust my chin a bit higher. Though, whether sincerely, or out of sympathy, several people have remarked on my dress, in a complimentary manner. The employees behind the wine bar, the hired dancers and musicians, and other paid individuals, are all wearing full skirts and flounces, they appear corseted and bustled, but aren’t, actually, as am I. I wonder if the other guests assume I’m hired entertainment. I decide, if that is the assumption, perhaps I shall oblige and act as though I am hired entertainment. I shift, nervously, smile more confidently, and raise my chin even higher. I am probably grimacing, by this point, and that I notice the raw beams of the ceiling suggests my chin may be held a bit too high, at the moment. I readjust.

I have two questions; where are the other gals from our group, one, and, what are they wearing, two?

We three polish off our bubbly and decide to explore the rest of the venue. We make our way out to the foyer and there are two or three other guests milling around. Where is everyone else? There were dozens of folks milling around outside before we were allowed to enter. We finally locate both the stairs and the elevator at the back of the room. We collectively opt for the elevator. When the car arrives, I gather up my yards of orange tulle and squeeze into the back of the elevator. My two friends manage to negotiate their way in, and, surprisingly, the doors close without hinderance. We exit at the second floor where the program states there is a fortune teller. There are two or three guests milling about, looking puzzled and a little bewildered at the lack of festivities, as are we. The fortune teller occupies a table and has a person seated across from her. I favor telling my own fortune, I sure as heck don’t want some acne riddled, twenty-something, making up a story that may seal my destiny. The power of suggestion is far too mysterious and too close to reality and manifestation for me to flirt with. We circle the limited space of the second floor, find no food and no wine and quickly retreat to the elevator once more.

We make our way to the third floor and as the elevator doors part we see where everyone has accumulated, not that there is a great crowd yet, but the dozens assembled out front prior to the party seem to have gathered here, on the third floor. There is food on a long table on one side of the room and every color of wine being poured a bar at the edge of the room, oh, and a juggler. I am hungry. I ran twelve miles earlier in the day and have metabolized all I’ve digested thus far, and then some. I approach the table. The mask I made, the beautiful glittery, sparkly, sequined mask I made, I decided should be of the sort that is on a stick and could be raised and lowered in a coy fashion. I did not want some mask strapped to my face for the duration of the party, smearing my eye shadow, messing up my eyeliner, or mashing my mascara enhanced lashes. I didn’t want my face to sweat. So, I am trying to manage the now empty wine glass I was told to “hang on to”, a mask on a stick, and a napkin, as there seems to be no small plates to amass finger foods upon. My very full skirt doesn’t quite facilitate approaching the buffet completely. I am a yard or so away, kind of leaning in to snatch bits of food perfectly positioned near the edges. My “dinner” for the night consists solely of some overly bright red meat like substance, some kind of salami, and thinly sliced deli variety turkey, which I despise. But I’m famished, and drinking, and must later drive home un-inebriated. I make a reach, snatch a few morsels of cured meat, retreat in an orange taffeta and tulle flourish, and scarf it down, approach the table again, and repeat. After a few repetitions, I feel adequately nourished, though not totally satisfied. What I’ve ingested thus far in food and beverage hardly accounts for my $65 admission. An occupational hazard, I try to not cost things the rest of the evening and focus on just having some fun.

There is music. A DJ. A rotund, middle-aged, DJ. He is playing music from “my era”, music popular in the 1980’s. I glance around at all the beautiful people dressed in small bits of black fabric, with masks. They all look and act older than me, but are probably “from the eighties”. There is a smattering of very beautiful, very young people, but they are loving the “old school”. There is dancing happening. This makes me happy.

I’m feeling a little the third wheel, at this point. The MeetUp event organizer and her “+ one”, aka guest, have known each other for nearly twenty years. They are very close and share two decades of shared experiences, stories, and inside jokes. I smile confidently, adjust my yards of tulle, and raise my chin a little bit. We do the girl-dance-thing, you know, when a bunch of girls really want to dance and there are no men who want to be caught dead dancing. In other words, every dance and every date and every party I’ve ever attended. We dance in the customary circular formation, each of us acting as cool as possible and yet keenly aware of just how good a dancer the other ladies in the circle are. There is unspoken competition here, but, I am disadvantaged. When in a very short, very form-fitting LBD, it is quite apparent how the hips and torso are being moved to the beat of the music. When your hips are adrift in twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle and your torso bound in very rigid boning, movement is not perceptible to the casual observer. I must overachieve. I must overcompensate.

The next song is the “Nay Nay” song. I don’t know the name, or the artist, but, thank god, it is more contemporary than the litany of eighties songs. I love eighties music, but I’m craving something from the current century, I want to break out of the mold of old. The DJ demonstrates the Nay Nay dance and all the LBD’s follow suit. I do my rendition of the Nay Nay dance and only my arms appear to move. I take it up a notch, or two. I’ll admit, I am now having fun and our awkward little dance triangle has dissolved and I am on my own, free to express myself in the art of dance. I win the contest. The DJ awards me a CD of some sort I have yet to listen to. I am presently, actively, looking for the appropriate electronic equipment on which to listen to whatever has been recorded to such antiquated a medium. I mean, I have a turntable, but I don’t have a CD player. Get real. But, it, the CD, is recognition, it is my prize, and it is shiny, like my sequins, so I am happy. I’ve concluded that I won the Nay Nay dance contest, not because I was the best dancer, though I was, but because in the sea of LBD’s, I was the only recognizable dancer.

Scarlette Begonia

At last, we locate the other three gals from our group, also wearing LBD’s, with masks, of course. They’ve made their way to the third floor and the party can now, officially begin. They all compliment my dress. I smile confidently and raise my chin a little higher. And we dance. We dance, we dance, we dance. I am on the dance floor and every song that comes on is my jam! Sometimes there is one other lady dancing with me, sometimes two, sometimes three. The only constant, is me. I dance and dance and dance. I dance the night away and I have an absolute ball. At the ball. With my mask, of course. In fact, I dance for such a very long time that I danced to Abba’s Dancing Queen, not once, but twice! It’s my jam. The only song more my jam is the Cupid Shuffle; I love this dance, I rock this dance, I did not need to remember to smile confidently and raise my chin higher, I was high and all smiles doing the Cupid Shuffle; me and my skirt. I have, by this time, figured out exactly how to move so as to make al twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle do amazing, swirly, things. I am the belle of the ball! I am the bright spot in a sea of LBD’s, the poor dears, all blendy-blendy in black, all in high heels, limping around, doing that “wincing walk” thing. You can tell when a girl’s feet hurt in her outrageously high stilettos, you can see how their stride becomes shorter, eventually a mincing little shuffle, and with each foot fall, a stifled moan and a wince. I have the most comfortable pair of flats I own on, never perceptible beneath my bountiful skirt. “Orange” you having fun?

Scarlette Begonia

The crowd of “older people” (people my age) is beginning to thin. The younger crowd has been rendered motionless by their aching feet. It is nearing the bewitching hour, ten o’clock. The wine has stopped flowing and the party trays are no longer being replenished. There are four of us “old girls” left, still dancing, still partying, still having fun, one has over-indulged. No worries, though, the three other gals have Ubered their way to the party and are sharing the cost to Uber, once again, from Sonoma, back to Napa. I opted to drive myself, and my twenty seven yards of taffeta and tulle, in my Honda Civic, to and from the party. I have been prudent and am in fine shape to drive the twenty minutes home. I make certain the most inebriated girl, being the one responsible for summoning the Uber ride, has successfully done so. There was a period of time in which she was lost. I finally found her in a bathroom stall changing into Birkenstocks. Well, if not Birkenstocks, something equally as ugly and at least as comfortable. You see, I could have worn Birkenstocks all night and not a soul would have known. I am feeling so right and so proper and so winning in my big, bright, orange dress. I am feeling like the Great Pumpkin, in fact. Once I got the three reunited and was certain Uber was en route, I headed for my car. I decided not to wait for the tram, but was feeling so exceedingly well, that I ran to my car. I ran, me and my skirt, all twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle, and as I approached one couple from behind, the female of the pair, limping pathetically along, they turned to see what the fast footsteps behind them were all about. There I was, skirt gathered in hand, running, comfortable but cute shoes still on, down the festively lighted path, towards the parking lot. They called out, “Cinderella, did you lose your slipper?” To which I replied, “Yes, have you seen it? It’s glass, you know!” And I continued on. The woman complimented, “Such a pretty dress!” I responded, “It’s my daughter’s! And I must hurry, because if I don’t have it back by midnight, it’ll turn into the great pumpkin! Oh, wait …” And I scampered on, me, and twenty seven yards of pumpkin colored taffeta and tulle.

I had so much fun, and so many compliments, I overcame my insecurities of being different, of being “the Great Pumpkin”, and, in fact, found that the being different, if comparisons need be made, actually enhanced my experience exponentially. I may not yet be self-actualized, but I am so grateful I didn’t slink home and seek to conform. I had a ball, at the ball. With a mask, of course, in twenty-seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle; the great pumpkin!

What’s Your Story?

If you have no story to tell, something, somewhere, isn’t quite right.

Not a day passes that we don’t experience something worth sharing, whether it’s something we observed, something we heard, something we participated in, something we remembered from the past, or even something we are planning for or dreaming of in the future. We all have a story to share.

If we feel we have nothing worthwhile to share is it because we are sitting idle, waiting for life to happen? Do we wait for other people for the company, or to have enough time, or enough money in order to acquire experiences we feel are worthy of sharing? Do we dare not to dream because we fear we’ll never be in a position of “doing”? If this, in any respect, is the case, our story, presently, is a tragedy.

Scarlette Begonia

One of the best storytellers of the day is Casey Neistat, filmmaker and vlogger. He recently traveled to Madrid for a speaking engagement. During his vlog shot from there, in a moment of reminiscence, he recounted the story of his first trip to Spain; he was young, still a teenager, with a young child to support, he worked as a dishwasher. Yet, he managed to set aside enough of a small sum of money that he could manage to pay for a trip to Europe with his older brother. Casey’s story was a reflection of his priorities; he still supported his child, he worked very hard, and saved diligently, and he traveled and experienced, that he’d have life experiences to grow from and stories to share. He had very little time and he had very little money, but his passion for life and experience inspired him to find a way. Because of his commitment to experience and to storytelling, he has followed his passion into a self-made career as an independent filmmaker and YouTube artist.

There is a way, but it won’t likely come find us while we sit idle and wait. We must pursue, we must go forth, if we want amazing adventures to tell tale of.

And yet, stories don’t have to be of an epic adventure to be worthy of telling. Some of the best stories are relatable because they are ordinary events, just well told and joyfully shared.

Scarlette Begonia

If we feel we have nothing worthwhile to share, is it because we don’t have the confidence to think others will find value in what we have to tell. This, too, would make our story a bit of a tragedy. Almost any story told with confidence and passion is worthwhile. There is humor, there are observations, there are plenty a worthy tale that can stem from the most mundane of events. The success of a story has only a little to do with content and much more to do with delivery and with engagement, which stems wholly from confidence.

Confidence, much like working very hard at a job and diligently saving money for a trip to Europe, takes commitment and practice and fortitude. And confidence will serve us well in every aspect of life. Confidence is a practice, like yoga or tai chi or ballet, like singing or playing the violin, once proficient, there is always another level of excellence to achieve. It is infinite. But confidence is critical, it is a life force.

Scarlette Begonia

And even with experiences to share and the confidence to tell them, there will be the few who will still not hear, will not listen, and this is never a reflection on the story or the storyteller. As much as storytelling is an art, so, too, is listening. The best storytellers are the best listeners; the best listeners are the best storytellers. As author Bryant H. McGill has been quoted, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Every story, every tale, every storyteller, will have a critic, too, from time to time. The quality of our story does not rely on the reaction of the listener, but the joy it brings us to tell and to those who truly hear. Do not be discouraged by those unwilling to hear, it is their loss, completely.

I often share stories of my simple, little life. In some cases, when I have an attentive audience, I feel I can tell the greates tale. Other times, when my audience isn’t connected or focused or willing, I struggle to even form intelligible sentences. I was, the other day, at the salon for my brow and bikini wax and as the hot wax was slathered on and the cool wax ripped off, I shared my tales of the weeks since my last visit. Here, I always find the perfect audience. May I suggest, if you struggle to find a willing audience with whom to share your stories, I have found the very best listeners, of all time, to be aestheticians. I have never had an aesthetician who wasn’t a great listener, who didn’t respond in all the right ways to all the stories I have to share. Your aesthetician, if you’re into bikini waxes, knows you in a way even your doctor doesn’t. There is a level of familiarity and intimacy with your aesthetician that can hardly be duplicated with anyone. I can get smooth and pretty and practice my craft of storytelling! Just thought I’d share.

Scarlette Begonia

Storytelling is a very large part of life; books, songs, movies, dance, photography, television shows, art, and poetry, are all just stories arranged into various mediums. Stories fill our every day, and, true, while many make a profession of telling a story, in one form or another, the rest of us are no less capable. We need only experiences to share and the confidence to express ourselves, and, we too, can tell a story!

So, what is your story?

Scarlette Letter – Week of September 14, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I’m grateful for compassionate people. I am so moved by the number of people volunteering to assist those who’ve lost everything they own in the Northern California wildfires

Affirmation – I am giving

Attitude – Confident

Activity – Ran fifteen miles on Saturday and hiked 21 miles on Sunday, some yoga and strength training at home between work and other obligations and time with friends and loved ones

Nurture – Yoga and meditation

Enrichment – Wayne Dyer – “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Quote: “Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions”

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Giving – I’m assembling piles of things I can donate to the fire victims. They have been inundated with donations and are requesting just money, now, which I don’t have piles of, though I will donate what I can to the Red Cross and to GoFundMe.

I am weeding through things, now, so when they do need additional clothing and household items, which they’ve stated they will, later this week and next, I’ll have them assembled and organized. I’m trying to find out if they need any horse halters and leads to gather up the loose livestock that managed to survive, I have several in storage I will dig out if they can be of use.

Connection – I went to a concert with a friend I met through other friends. We’ve never spent one on one time together, so, it was almost like a “first date”. I spent some wonderful time with my Sweetheart this week, a little more than usual, and it was lovely.

Simplifying – Part of my giving to the fire victims will serve, doubly, as lightening my load. Closets and drawers are much fuller than they should be and I have so many new and like new items that I’ve only worn once in the past year or so. I am so hoping that someone in need will be delighted with them.

Journaling – My Thoughts

Love Drug

Love is so hard. Being in love is hard. Loving is hard. There is only one thing worse than being in love and being loved, and that is not being in love and not being loved.

I have often joked that I fall in love too easily. I’ve joked that my criteria is simple; a pulse and male. I have a very romantic, very optimistic, very accepting and, based on some past experiences, a far too trusting and tolerant heart. I love being in love. I love being loved. As a result, I’ve made some poor choices along the way. I am also a very tenacious and committed person, so, in some of those poor choices, they’ve been long lasting poor choices.

As a result of finding myself in relationships, in love, with people who have lied to me and cheated on me and betrayed me and abused me and neglected me and, perhaps worst, taken me for granted, I’ve developed a lack of confidence in love, a general suspicion of my lover, and an overwhelming sense of foreboding doom in relationships. But, still, I fall in love like a boulder nudged from a cliff. Wham. (Continue Reading)

Social – Instagram (begoniascarlett), Facebook Page (Scarlette Begonia), Twitter (@BegoniaBegoniaS)

Love Drug

Love is so hard. Being in love is hard. Loving is hard. There is only one thing worse than being in love and being loved, and that is not being in love and not being loved.

I have often joked that I fall in love too easily. I’ve joked that my criteria is simple; a pulse and male. I have a very romantic, very optimistic, very accepting and, based on some past experiences, a far too trusting and tolerant heart. I love being in love. I love being loved. As a result, I’ve made some poor choices along the way. I am also a very tenacious and committed person, so, in some of those poor choices, they’ve been long lasting poor choices.

As a result of finding myself in relationships, in love, with people who have lied to me and cheated on me and betrayed me and abused me and neglected me and, perhaps worst, taken me for granted, I’ve developed a lack of confidence in love, a general suspicion of my lover, and an overwhelming sense of foreboding doom in relationships. But, still, I fall in love like a boulder nudged from a cliff. Wham.

I am the first to acknowledge my own weaknesses, and, as a student of happiness, to explore the path to overcoming them. Every road should be a path towards further happiness, towards our personal bliss.

Being lied to, cheated on, betrayed, abused, neglected, and taken for granted are terrible, terrible experiences. But, I’ll argue, so is being in love and, for whatever reason, being insecure in that love, being suspicious, and having a sense of foreboding doom. In fact, all of that, I think is far worse than that which we are worried about.

If we are in love and someone lies, cheats, betrays, neglects, or takes us for granted, it is easy enough to recognize that and walk away. Run away. It is not worth staying and, no, things will not change. Remember, you cannot change anyone but yourself. Period. End of story. Run away. This I’ve learned to do. Eventually. We can sit on the bench on the sidelines for a moment, catch our breath, wait for the pain to subside just enough, and get back in the game. We can. If you don’t think you can, think again.

If we are in love, and all is really well, but we spend our time, our thoughts, our energy, in insecurity, in suspicion, with a sense of foreboding doom, everything is poisoned, whether in a perfect relationship, a really good relationship, or one we should be running away from. Life, in insecurity, of any sort, of any proportion, is hell, the worst kind of hell.

For some, love is blind; they are in relationships that are obviously riddled with lying, cheating, betrayal, et al, and they stay, seemingly blissfully. For me, love is hallucination, I see things, or think I see things, bad things, that don’t exist. Every comment, every text, every social media post has some secret, underlying meaning and it most certainly isn’t good. This is my mind left unchecked. Patterns have been set in the past and those habits are just that; habits.

Habits, good and bad, can be developed, and, likewise, can be overridden. The key here is to recognize that which should be overridden and replace it with that which should be developed. This can be done with a bit of thought, recognition, and discipline.

To replace insecurity, suspicion, and a sense of foreboding doom with calm, secure, confidence is no easy matter, but it can be done. Insecurity and suspicion, in love, as in many other things, is poison. Insecurity and suspicion are very powerful, very negative emotions. Negative emotions have power, very negative power. Negativity; I’m certain you’ve spent some time with very negative people and their negativity probably made that time feel uncomfortable, strained, and unnatural. Negative energy can be felt, almost tangibly, like a pair of rain soaked jeans; wet, cold, miserable, heavy, and constricting. Negative energy in love is doom, it becomes the catalyst for that which we most fear, the foreboding doom, the end of love, either with or without the rest of the nasty bits; lying, cheating, betrayal, abuse, and neglect.

What we need to know about love, above all else, is that it, like everything else in life, like life itself, is temporary. For the rare few, love lasts a lifetime, for some, a couple of dates, and for most of us, something in between. We can’t force love, it is either there or it isn’t. True, love changes over time, which some misinterpret as loss of love. It isn’t always going to be butterflies and uncontrollable lust, but it is still love. Love, true love, cannot be planned, it cannot be faked. That’s why “loving” for money, beauty, or status rarely is real, there are two hearts, there are two minds, and there are two souls, and unless they all are as compatible as the net worth, the plastic surgery, or the country club membership, it can’t be real.

So, when we find real love, poisoning it with our insecurities, with our suspicion, with the overwhelming feeling of foreboding doom, it is pure tragedy. Whether fleeting or enduring, real love is magical. Enjoy it. Bask in it. Savor it. Do everything you can to acknowledge it, to sustain it, to enjoy it, each and every moment. Remaining confident and secure in that love is the first and most important ingredient to lasting magic. Love will last for as long as it is meant to and love will only ever be present in the moment.

So, perhaps real, magical, love is more likely to endure if both parties are able to just live in the moment. The insecurity, the suspicion, the overwhelming sense of foreboding lives in one of two places; the past or the future. We are either projecting our past experiences onto our present situation, or we fear those negative experiences may occur at some point in the future. Am I right? Of course! Love can only be in the present, and unless those negative insecurities we worry about are also in the present, they aren’t real and they have no place in love.

When those negative feelings begin to arise, stop. Stop. Stop. Take a breath, hold it, exhale slowly and ask yourself; right now, this very moment, am I okay, are we okay, are any of those bad things happening right before my eyes, right now? Likely, no. Is there any irrefutable, tangible evidence that any of those bad things happened in the immediate past? Likely, no. If not, then let it go, let all the negativity go and just relax into the moment, with the person you loved twenty seconds ago before that negativity ripped the reins from your hands! Look at them, squeeze their hand, smile, and remember all those great reasons you’re so in love with them.

Being confident in love is the best love drug, no prescription, no copay required. Learning to feel secure in a good, healthy relationship is intoxicating. Being able to experience that love, with confidence, is divinity. Confidence; the number one love drug.

Scarlette Letter – August 29, 20015

I’ve decided that letting your age define you is a sure way to limit your happiness.

I had a marvelous day not acting my age; I drove a little too fast, listened to loud music, hiked along the coast to a sketchy, steep, poison oak covered trail, down a cliff, to the beach, where a fresh water waterfall spilled into the ocean. Well, me and hundreds of other people. As I descended the steep, slippery trail down the cliff to the beach, I found myself behind a gentleman and, I assume, his wife, probably not too much older than me. There were two younger men with them I’d almost have to assume were their sons. The woman, with much trepidation and some assistance, made it down one section of the slipperier part of the trail and halted at the next, and the last steep portion, before the beach below. There, she gave up, stating she was too old to do stuff like this. I went ahead, when offered, but I showed her how I used my arms to lower myself down to the next level and assured her she could do it. I went on my way. Later, after a brief stroll along the surf, I noticed the woman, with her family, enjoying the beach and watching the water spill down from the cliff she’d descended, she was all smiles. What a pity it would have been to act the way you think you’re supposed to act at whatever chronological age you happen to be and miss out on a great experience.

After my hike, I drove home with the windows down and the sunroof open, a little too fast, and I listened to really loud music, and I felt the age I want to feel, and I felt alive.


Scarlett’s Letter August 15, 2013

I made it to an advanced yoga class this morning, it was exhilarating. I’ll be feeling it, for sure, for the next couple of days. Very worth the effort of getting up early, getting things together and heading out the door before work.

This evening was the “Dress to the Vines” event at Jessup Cellars Gallery. Mom and I got all gussied up and set out a bit on the early side. Mom stresses out a little about “traffic”. I find it amusing. At every stop light, if there are more than three cars, she exclaims “Here they all are!” I will sometimes alter my route for dense traffic, in a large city I am well acquainted with, where I know I can a) save significant time and/or b) I can keep moving. There is something about keeping moving, even if it adds a minute or two to the overall travel time, that I find preferable. In Napa? Traffic worth a detour? Joke.

So we arrived at the winery, which is twenty minutes from our house, oh, about an hour early. They closed two minutes before our arrival to prepare for the event, so we couldn’t even go in and have a glass of wine while we waited. It was hot out and even hotter in Mom’s “air conditioned” car. The A/C works on the passenger side, but not on the driver’s side. And she has leather seats. I needed another shower. I sweat more on the twenty minute drive to the winery than I did in an hour and a half of strenuous “advanced” yoga in a heated studio.

We sought respite with a cold beer in the bar of a popular Yountville restaurant across the street. Redd Wood. Mom has been wanting to try it, but after our visit, I’m not so sure. She thought it was ugly inside. I rather liked it, I thought the architecture, design and decor were pretty cool.  The menu looked great, too. She couldn’t understand the layout or why there were so many employees and no guests. It was 5:03 PM. The bartender said they were booked solid every night, beginning at about 7:00. I’m going back.

Salumi, cheese and wine before the event at Jessup Cellars.
Salumi, cheese and wine before the event at Jessup Cellars.

We ventured back across the street a few minutes before the event was scheduled to start. We were the first to arrive. By far. I felt a little awkward noshing on all the cheese and salumi before any other guests arrived. But we did. And had our first glass of wine. After our beer. We made conversation with all the winery and gallery folks we saw the day before, again, being made to feel very welcomed. The panelists were all there and one of the women looked very, very familiar. In a state with nearly forty million residents and God only knows how many tourists, this time of year, what are the chances?

People began to arrive and stood around chatting with one another with apparent familiarity. Mom wanted to sit, so they let her into the gallery a bit early to choose a seat. I mingled a little longer in the tasting room and then joined Mom in the gallery. The panelist speakers and the moderator were going over some last minute details. It was the moderator that looked familiar, she looked like the mothers of one of the Boy Scouts in a troop I helped lead in a Sacramento suburb several years ago. What are the chances? Finally, I could stand it no longer. Yup, it was her, Melissa Haines, a Wine Consultant based in Sacramento. What a small world.

Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery

The gallery had been transformed over night; new pieces had been brought in, featuring “wearable” art by Cynthia Carey, Rory Castillo, and Cari Borja. Tables had been set up with notes to review and three wine glasses for some pairings for each guest. Since the theme was fashion, there were a couple of models in gorgeous gowns designed by Colleen Quen of San Francisco, one in the color of champagne, the other in the color of a rich, red wine. The speakers on the panel were all women, Mary Olin, the Wine Fashionista from the Huffington Post, Kaye Cloutman, Editor in Chief of a GEV (Gastronomique en Vogue) magazine and Karri Grant, Consulting Fashion Stylist from Sacramento.  Personally, I loved the “Sacramento” influence here tonight. Way to represent! Sacramento is on the map, make no doubt.

Panelists for Defining Wine Country Fashion: The Who, How, When with Masters of Wine Fashion
Panelists for Defining Wine Country Fashion: The Who, How, When with Masters of Wine Fashion

An Effort to Evolve

Panelists Kaye Cloutman, Editor in Chief of a GEV (Gastronomique en Vogue) magazine and Karri Grant, Consulting Fashion Stylist from Sacramento.
Panelists Kaye Cloutman, Editor in Chief of a GEV (Gastronomique en Vogue) magazine and Karri Grant, Consulting Fashion Stylist from Sacramento.

The highlight of the panelist discussions, for me, was the wine and scent pairing conducted by Mary Orlin. Generally, fragrance and wine are mutually exclusive. Fragrances worn will influence the olfactory senses when tasting wines. So much so, that tasting room personnel are “forbidden” to wear fragrances while working. So to deliberately pair wine and fragrance was sort of a departure from tradition. We were given test strips with different fragrances created by Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio to pair with selected Jessup Cellars wines. There were two fragrances for each of the three wines, and they were selected specifically to enhance the unique characteristics and qualities of each wine. Rob Lloyd, the winemaker for Jessup Cellars was on hand to further narrate the pairings. Fascinating and delicious, in every respect. What a divine olfactory experience!

Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Strong fragrances and wine tasting do not mix. Notice, in most tasting rooms, the flowers are not fragrant, by design.
Strong fragrances and wine tasting do not mix. Notice, in most tasting rooms, the flowers are not fragrant, by design.
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing

What struck me the most, though, about the whole event, was the fact that the panelists, the moderator, the designer, the winemaker, the artists and the curator of the museum, are all self-defined people. Each very confident, each very powerful, and each a pioneer in their respective fields. They each transformed their passion into their livelihood, their career. They created their own niche, their own market, their own following because of their passion, their confidence and their willingness to step over boundaries and obstacles to make their way. They each evolved, with significant, individual effort, based on their passions, their goals, and their commitment to those passions and goals, into confident and fulfilled leaders within their fields. This epitomizes the possibility and opportunity each and every one of us have, if only we endeavor to focus on our passion, commit to our goals, and make the effort to evolve into who we deserve to be.

What Are The Chances?

chance

/CHans/

Noun – A possibility of something happening.

Adjective – Fortuitous; accidental.

Verb – Do something by accident or without design: “if they chanced to meet”.

Synonyms

noun.              occasion – opportunity – hazard – luck – fortune
adjective.        fortuitous – accidental – random – haphazard – casual
verb.  risk – happen – hazard – venture – occur – gamble – hap

What are the chances you’d be willing to take a chance?

I take chances. This is supposed to be against my nature, I am an auditor, by profession. We are supposed to be risk adverse. Well, I don’t actually audit anymore, I teach software, and auditing, to auditors. I got this job by chance. My family was on the brink of financial ruin when a recruiter called with this job. I wasn’t even looking for a job. It was all by chance. My kids were in high school, my husband was pretending, poorly, to be a day trader, and we were having a hard time making the mortgages. The job required up to 75% travel and public speaking, two things I was dead set against. But, a paid 90-day trial period for the sake of the family was a chance I was willing to take. That was five years ago. The kids are in college, the husband is no longer in the picture, gone, with the mortgages that could not be met. But I took a chance on the job and it taught me something about myself at a very critical point in my life. I. Can. Do. Anything. Five years later, I happily travel all over the country and speak to groups of professionals for hours on end, for days on end. With confidence, with passion. By chance.

I take some chances when I travel for work, too. I go out and explore the towns and cities I visit. I walk, sometimes. I walk, sometimes, after dark. I get a feeling for the area and decide what I want to see and how I’m going to get there. But, taking these somewhat calculated chances has provided me with so many experiences that have enriched my life and have taught me a lot about people and about my country. I learn about every city and town I visit, I take in the local sites, history, architecture, cuisine, culture, and amenities, like parks and galleries and museums. Worth the chance.

I take other chances, too. I drive fast, we’ve discussed this. I make risky lane changes when aggravated, too. I will admit, I am sometimes that idiot on the road that I would curse at. I am really a careful, safe and sane driver, when someone is in the car with me, but when I drive by myself, I like a little risk, I like a little adrenaline. I like speeding and not getting caught. I like being able to maneuver through “idiot blocks” on the highway. I like taking those chances.

I have always liked sports and activities that many consider somewhat risky, chancy. I like to backpack, I like to horseback ride, I like whitewater rafting, I like rock climbing, I like snowboarding, and at my age, too. I run. I hike. I want to do even more! I want to white water kayak, I want to parasail, I want to sky dive (okay, maybe just once, to say I’ve done it), I want to surf, I want to do things I haven’t even thought of yet. Why? I like to take chances. I like a little adrenaline. I want to live while I’m alive. I’m addicted to experiences. I’m addicted to chance.

Life is full of chance. Even in the ordinary, there is chance. There is chance in what we choose to study, in the profession we select. There is chance in who we select as a mate, there is chance in the investments we make, the real estate we buy, the trip we make to the grocery store for cottage cheese and milk, in changing the light bulb in the bathroom. There is chance in crossing the street, in crossing every intersection, in climbing the stairs, in taking an elevator, even in swallowing your food. To think you don’t take chances every day you get out of bed is folly.

After the collapse of a twenty-something year marriage, though it was far from what a loving, fulfilling, marriage should ever be, I swore, swore, swore, I was better off alone. I told myself I might, eventually, date. But I swore, swore, swore I’d never allow anyone close enough to me to fall in love.  By chance, I am in love.

Nearly three years ago, I was in a town far, far from home. I’d been training and consulting with a group of accountants at a firm for a few days. My last day was busy, hectic and exhausting. I decided to reward myself by venturing a little ways out of town to a brewery that was said to have both good food and good beer. If the crowded parking lot was any evidence, on a Wednesday night, it must be true. I decided to take a chance. There were no tables available for a single diner so I agreed to eat at the bar. I enjoyed my meal and a stout beer, followed by a bowl of locally made beer-flavored ice cream, and another beer. About half way through my ice cream and second stout, a man took the stool next to me. He said to me “you’re not from around here, are you?” Right? I took a chance and struck up conversation with him. He seemed nice enough, but what really struck me was the fact that everyone at the bar knew him and seemed to hold him in high regard. During our conversation he asked if I’d ever ridden an airboat before. No. I wasn’t even sure what an airboat was, I was pretty darned sure I’d never ridden one before. He invited me to go for an airboat ride the next day, then to lunch, before I headed to the airport to catch my flight home. Am I crazy? Yup. Based on my risk assessment (auditors do this) and my observations of how people (in a bar) regarded this (strange, not as in unusual, but as in unknown) man, I agreed. We exchanged numbers and I headed back to my hotel (alone). I knew full well I’d chicken out when it came down to it. No chance.

That night and the next morning I was having a war with myself. There was the side of me that said “are you crazy?” and the other side that said “YOLO!! Let’s go!” He called. I stalled. He called. I stalled. I went sightseeing. He called again. I relented. I met him and found out what an airboat is; a small aluminum craft, flat hull, with a chair (one) secured in front of a cage housing an airplane propeller that spins frighteningly fast and is very loud and propels the boat across the top of the water, or gravel, or other land mass, if necessary. Like a swamp boat, well, just like a swamp boat. I got to sit on a lawn chair that was NOT anchored in any way to the bottom of the boat. Am I crazy? Apparently so. We launched the boat, I climbed aboard. And, by the way, thank goodness for my shoe purchase splurge. I’d found a shoe store, during this trip, by chance, in this most unlikely town, having a BOGO sale. I bought a pair of flats for work and got a free pair of vans, so I actually had appropriate footwear for this impromptu adventure, which in itself was a huge sign that I should take this chance. We flew up (or down) the river that ran through town, we stopped for lunch at a waterside restaurant, then continued our journey in the other direction (down or up the river). We found an island and pulled the boat ashore, sat on a log and each had a beer and chatted innocently. We headed back, pulled the boat out of the water and returned to my rental car. I went to the airport, got on the plane and returned to my life.

Airboat
Airboat

I’d talked to folks while dining alone before, but I’d never exchanged phone numbers. I’d never even entertained that as a possibility. I’d certainly never agreed to meet anyone I’d chatted casually with while dining alone. The chance had never presented itself, honestly. All of this seemed to be as a result of a bizarre chain reaction of chance occurrences. A crazy, crazy, crazy chance, and one, if a friend or family member told me about, I wouldn’t recommend. But I took it. Out of this crazy chance, I made a friend. We chatted now and then on the phone, exchanged text messages. We’d exchange stories, I’d talk about work and my travels in exchange for his weather, hunting, fishing and gardening report. We lost track of each other for a while, I thought he’d lost interest in our friendship, he’d lost his little black phonebook, instead. On a chance, one day, because I was thinking of him while visiting a town he said his sister lived in, I dug up his number and called. Because he’d lost my number he’d given up that we’d ever talk again. What were the chances? Our conversations became more regular. Our friendship grew.

He was making plans to visit his sister and his mom in Southern California and thought he’d make a stop in Northern California to visit me on his way, take a chance on seeing me after a year and a half of sporadic phone friendship. That was a year ago today. A year ago today, nervous as hell, I met a man at the airport I’d only ever seen once, well twice, counting the bar. I took a chance on a man who was my friend becoming, perhaps, something more. I considered the chance of letting someone get a little bit closer to me. I was still completely cynical about the possibility of love, but out of this chance friendship came a chance love. A chance to love, a chance to be loved.

Like all the other chances I take; backpacking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, where the outcome has some risk, some uncertainty, that, no matter how much I’ve trained, planned or prepared, there are significant chances that something could go wrong and I could get hurt, love could go wrong and I could get hurt. I face this every day. And so does he. He is not without his own battle scars. We are both taking a chance. But I’m not willing to chance not taking this chance.

Sometimes we openly struggle with the chance we’re taking, sometimes we struggle in silence, but, when all is said and done, we agree to keep taking this crazy chance on each other. Ours, perhaps, being a little chancier than most, with 3,000 miles between us and the constraints of affordability of travel, the demands of work and family and other obligations. I’d rather take the chance than lose what I’ve found. And what I’ve found, I found only by taking a chance.

The chances I’ve taken, on my job, on my relationship, in the sports and activities and adventures I pursue, have allowed me to grow incredibly as a person. My confidence has blossomed, my lust for life has exploded, my ability to embrace change has developed, my clarity of purpose, my desire to evolve, to improve as a person, physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally and to share my observations with others have all grown significantly. Most importantly, my ability to love, and be loved, has become a reality when I thought it was lost. And, at first, only because of chance. Now I pursue change and growth out of desire. I am driven to grow, to evolve, to change. I am driven to take more chances.

What are the chances?

I Rock

Stability. We need stability. We need stable ground to walk on, we need stable ground to build our homes on, solid footing to set the foundation upon. We need stability in our lives, too. We are all looking for something in our life, as solid as the earth, to root into. Something solid to build from. Even those of us who crave excitement, experiences and spontaneity require stability in our lives as an anchor point. When a bird takes flight, supported only by the current of the air, they light upon something that will support them. When a bird builds a nest, it chooses a place it is certain will support the weight of the nest, the nesting partner, the eggs, and, eventually, the fledglings. We are no different, we need something supportive to light upon, to nest upon, something we are certain is secure, stable and sound, and this is in a metaphorical sense as much as a tangible sense.

Do you recall the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake near San Francisco in October 1989? Perhaps not. But I felt that earthquake over eighty miles away in Sacramento. So much more destruction occurred to buildings in one area than in others, not because of the magnitude of the quake, but because that area of the city was developed on fill, on ground that was not as solid as it would seem. The very ground that supported the buildings in that area of destruction pretty much just turned to Jell-O. The buildings that were constructed on actual earth fared much better. An illustration of how important it is to have a solid base before you build, whether building buildings or building a life

The mistake people tend to make, the mistake most people make without exception, is that we try to anchor to something, or someone, that cannot or will not offer us the stability we desire. None of us are immune from this shortcoming, myself included. And I know better, I know so much better, and yet, here I am.

Sometimes, to understand stability, we have to have the rug pulled out from beneath us. In the past five years I have lost my home. Two, actually. I’ve ended my marriage of over twenty years. Both of my children have grown and left home. My father passed away. My life, still, is extremely uncertain and lacks any sense of permanence in almost every respect.  And with nearly every conversation I’ve had in the past week with family, friends and those I allow close to me, permanence seems even more illusive. And I am fine. Through all of this, I have learned that you need to find an inner strength as your anchor, to provide you with stability, because no one and no thing will ever provide you the solid ground you need to support yourself through life. Everything in your life can, and likely will, change, and not always for the better. And I’m a glass half full type of girl, but this is reality. The inner strength you draw from may be the only solid ground, the only rock, you can ever light upon after having to take flight. I am my own rock.

So, you need to find, within yourself, your own rock to cling to, to land upon, to build from. No matter what happens, then, you have that solid footing, and no one can take it from you. And still, we tend to want to find other rocks, rocks outside of ourselves. Knowing this, and having done, I think, an exemplary job drawing from my inner strength through it all, I still find myself groping for other rocks in an attempt to secure stability. This is a facet of human nature, and of self, that I struggle to understand, that I vow I will never again fall victim to, and, yet, here I am again. But I am my own rock.

Have you ever crossed a fast running, cold mountain stream during snowmelt? You seek to leave the solid pathway on which you stand and find a way across a tumultuous stream on uncertain footing before finally reaching solid ground on the other side. Perhaps there is a felled tree or a log fashioned into a bridge. It may be narrow, or wet and slippery, or not anchored well on one side or the other, but it provides something solid by which you may be able to cross the cold, rushing water. If not a log crossing, there may be a series of boulders in the water that you can use as stepping-stones to cross the raging waters. Personally, I prefer rock crossings to log crossings, any day. But even rock crossings are not without peril, often the rocks themselves are not solidly anchored in the streambed and wobble and topple when you put your weight on them. You learn to stand on the shore, from the highest vantage point your can find, and look for rocks that are large enough and solid enough to support your weight for a period of time, until you can progress to the next rock. You learn to step, apply some weight to ascertain the stability of the rock, then, if satisfied, you shift your entire weight onto it, landing safely for a moment, before identifying the next rock to step to, again, testing it first.

And, so it is with life. We may have that solid rock within from which we derive the strength and the power to get us through the challenges life will present us. Think of the challenges life presents like crossing a stream, having to step away from the solid ground, your internal rock of strength, and venture across a carefully chosen and perilous path, before you are again able to stand upon your own, solid rock. Some of us seek to cross these streams, some raging rivers, some babbling brooks. Others of us find our path in life puts us in a position where we have to cross the creek. Either way, the water must be crossed in order to continue on. Look for the right rocks to provide you a safe crossing, back to your own, strong internal rock of strength. Be your own rock.

What is your rock, your internal rock of strength? The type of rock that will anchor you in the worst of storms, one you can cling to when the waves are crashing hard and fast, one you can sit on as the flood waters rise, one you can use as a wind break in a storm, one you can bask in the sun on after a cold night. Your internal rock is made up of many things; things you can draw from in your journey through life. Your internal rock is made up of things you use for strength; your values, your guiding principles, your faith, your hope, your independence, your integrity, your commitment to self, your self-confidence, your motivation. You decide, but at a minimum, at the core of your rock, you need to know your values and your guiding principles, the rest will follow, the rest will just make your rock larger, providing you more solid ground to stand on. Be your own rock.

With such a formidable base to stand on, then, why do we seek to cling to other rocks? Again, a facet of human nature, or self, that I wish I understood. I have just caught myself jumping onto wobbly rocks in a perilous stream and wondering why I felt so off balance. Now that I have tested the rocks in the center of the stream, and I know they are not solid, I must decide whether to continue across this stream, or retreat to safety where I will cling, again, to my core, the solid rock within. I am my own rock.

What are your wobbly rocks? Have you identified them, or perhaps they will take you by surprise. Relationships? Career? Material possessions? Any of these can seem to provide you with the security and stability, the strength you need, and without warning, each and every one of these may wobble and spill you into the stream.

Relationships. How many friends have I heard tell me the same story? It’s like reading a book written by a very popular and prolific fiction author, it’s basically the same plot, the same story line, with a different geographical setting and slightly different characters. The story remains the same, like a template or a boilerplate.  “He cheated on me.” “She came home one day, handed me divorce papers and said it was over.” “I do love you, I’m just not sure I can do this.” “You’re great, it’s just me. “I just suck at relationships.” Sometimes after a month, or maybe thirty years, and we are always taken by surprise. Or are we? We didn’t see it coming. Or did we? The rock wobbled and ploink, in the cold water we go, to be swept downstream by the current, looking for something else, or someone else to grab on to. I’m not saying we should go through life lonely, that we should not dare to enter relationships, for there is much joy that comes from the loving another. But, in relationships, never anchor yourself to that other person to the point where you rely on them to fulfill you, to make you happy, or to support you. Don’t cling to that other person because you can’t imagine life without them, because you may have to some day. Be your own rock.

Career. Layoffs, downsizing, bankruptcy, consolidations and other business failures, rapidly advancing technologies, regulatory requirements.  In my career as an auditor I have to assess the risk of any or all of these, and a million more, as they pertain to the businesses I am auditing. If you think your position within a company is going to provide you with the strength and stability you require throughout life, you have been very, very, very lucky, and perhaps a bit ignorant, up to this point. Your career should be rewarding and fulfilling, but it should never be your cornerstone, your bedrock, because one little conference call, one little form letter, one little pink piece of paper and the rock has toppled and ploink, you’re in the cold, cold stream sputtering for breath. Be your own rock.

Material possessions. No matter how large or small, expensive or affordable, material possessions can never, ever provide us with the security we require. A turn in events, in the economy for example, can put you in peril of losing that which we most often identify as our most solid base; our house. Perhaps you seek self-expression and identity with the car you drive, or the clothes and shoes you wear, the boat, the motorcycle, the RV, the vacation home. All are great, but certainly are not the foundation on which your life should be based. One poorly timed lane merge, one freakish storm, one shorted wire can find you flailing your arms as you slip from that rock and ploink, into the river, swimming against the current to the shore for safety. Be your own rock.

Do you remember the story of the three little pigs? They had to go out into the world and build their own homes. The first pig built their home out of straw, the second out of sticks and the third from bricks, or stone. The first two pigs looked for the easiest building materials they could find, materials that would require the least amount of effort, and in both cases, their houses toppled. The third pig was very selective in his building material and applied considerably more effort in erecting his house. And it withstood. Build your house from stone. Be your own rock. And like the little pigs, when the unthinkable happens, you are safe and secure and you may even be able to provide strength and stability, temporarily, to those you know who are in need.

I was an Assistant Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop for many years, the only woman leader for most of the time. I was on a backpacking trek with a group of boys and men in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We were training for an upcoming ten-day trek in New Mexico. I was new to backpacking, though I had hiked for many years. I was managing quite well though I had packed more in my pack than I needed, weighing it down much more than necessary, and I, myself, weighed about forty pounds more than I do now. I was able to keep up with the boys, the men were hiking behind me a good quarter mile, so I was pleased. It wasn’t cardio or endurance that was my issue, it was balance. We found a flat piece of ground to sleep on our second night out, it was across a stream and there was not a makeshift bridge made of a log, nor were there any rocks to use as stepping stones in order to cross. We were going to have to leap across the stream. The boys all bounded across without any trouble, leaping off of a large boulder on one side and landing on the bank on the other. My turn came. I stepped up onto the boulder and my full and over-packed pack shifted ever so slightly. In slow, slow, slow motion, I lost my balance. I was in a war with gravity for what seemed a full minute, I could feel the pack pulling me backwards and no matter how I tried to correct myself, I could feel myself tip further and further off center. In a second that seemed to last for hours, I was on my back, on my backpack, wedged helplessly between two boulders. Three men pulled me, and my pack, upright. I suffered no injuries other than a sound blow to my pride. I was relieved of my backpack and easily leapt across the creek, my pack was tossed across safely thereafter. I laughed the whole thing off, of course, and from this I started “the turtle club”, an exclusive club that only awarded membership to people who fell in some unceremonious and embarrassing manner. We ended up with several members over the course of the months that followed. So, I guess the lesson here is to be very careful when you select a rock to leap from, make sure you are well balanced, perhaps lighten your load, and be certain you aren’t overestimating your ability to land safely on the other side. Be your own rock.

I was also a Girl Scout leader for many, many years. My girls did not just sell cookies and burden their parents’ refrigerators with tacky arts and crafts projects, my girls hiked and biked and snowboarded and rode roller coasters and camped. And rock climbed. Some of the girls were attending the local council’s rock climbing camp and one of the activities was going to be rappelling into a cavern, which was a little troubling to a couple of girls, my daughter included. We were fortunate enough to have a very experienced rock climber among the group of parents involved with the troop and he volunteered to teach us to rappel down a cliff in a remote canyon in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I have always been a little nervous about heights and took advantage of this opportunity to confront my trepidation. If you have never rappelled off of a cliff, you should, with the proper instruction, supervision and equipment, of course. There is nothing quite like taking that first step off the ledge, walking backwards, focusing on the rope, the knot and the anchor as you descend. Will it hold? In rappelling, you hold your own rope, you lower yourself down at your own pace, you hold your fate in your own hands. And, really, life is no different. You hold your fate in your own hands and every day, you are stepping backwards off the cliff, rope in hand. And as you step bravely off that ledge, remember, your feet are solidly planted on rock, it is stable, and that’s all we want, that’s all we need. Be your own rock.

Let’s rock and roll, then. You absolutely need to build your own solid core, your internal rock, consisting of your core values and your guiding principles. Spend some time identifying these, like the third of the three little pigs and his wise and careful selection of building materials. Read books on the topic if you need guidance, but identifying your core values and guiding principles is the first, most critical step. In identifying your core values you are likely to determine that certain traits or characteristics are important to you, for example, health, fitness, independence, self-confidence. Add these to your rock, embody them, and draw from the strength they provide. Once you have your solid internal rock, nurture it, never let it crumble against the tide, against the current. That rock, that base, becomes your vantage point for identifying stones to test, to step upon, to cross any streams you may encounter.

Once we have identified our core values and our guiding principles, once we have that solid rock deep within, we are more capable of handling whatever the world throws at us. That rock, that base, will always be there. With a solid base, our own touchstone, if you will, we can actually explore options in life that we may never have had the courage or confidence to attempt before. Remember, that with every new experience, every new adventure, every fear faced, we become stronger, wiser and more confident. Our rock is fortified. I am my own rock. I rock. Be your own rock. Rock on.