Perfect Cartwheels

My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”

I began to think about cartwheels.

I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel.

I was a latchkey kid for most afternoons from some point in grade school, on. I was alone for a few hours after school almost every day, and almost always on Saturdays. Every day when I came home from school and every Saturday morning when I woke up, there was a list of chores written in my mother’s recognizable cursive, left conspicuously on the kitchen counter. I’d play all afternoon, watch cartoons and my favorite syndicated shows, talk on the phone with friends and do whatever I wanted, until about ten minutes before my mom was due home. Then I’d quickly do my chores and go upstairs and pretend to be laboring over my homework. One of the things that fell under “do whatever I wanted” was cartwheels. In the living room. Which was, I’m sure, forbidden.

My mother’s living room has always been this vast, unused, somewhat sterile space. Reserved only for the most important of company, we dare not, to this day, enter the room. More recently, my mother quite elderly, has become “lost”, on a couple of different occasions. I’ve been unable to find her. In these instances, both times, I’ve looked everywhere; in her room, her bathroom, the garage, the backyard, the family room where the TV is, her office, which is really where the washer and dryer were intended to go, but the old, oak roll top desk has always resided. The washer and dryer were relegated to the garage. Each time I’ve “lost” my mom, I finally found her, as Jeff Foxworthy would say, in the very last place I looked; the living room. But it stands to reason that it would be the very last place I looked! We never, ever, ever use the room. We’re lucky I just didn’t call the authorities and report a missing person before looking in the living room for her!

The living room is quite large, large enough to do cartwheels, obviously, and has a dining room attached. Fashionable in the 1960’s, the living room is “sunken”, meaning there is a tiny step, say four inches, down into the living room, then back, up, into the dining room. The carpet in the living room has always had a nap, and I think this was a required criteria for the carpet each time the old was replaced with new, which, by the way, was only ever because the color became unfashionable and certainly not because it was worn. The nap of the carpet would tattle immediately, alerting my mom to the fact that someone had trod through the living room. You can imagine what cartwheels would do; handprints and footprints, dozens of them. We won’t even mention the times I roller skated in the living room with the neighbor girl from across the street while our moms were at work!

I just included in my chores each day, a quick run through the living room with the Eureka, canister style, vacuum, carefully “laying down the nap” of the carpet. This was tricky, but I became quite skilled; you simply started at one end of the room and backed your way across, vacuuming in one direction only.

Scarlette Begonia

I was hiking in Marin County last weekend, outside of Bolinas. The trail I sought led to a fresh water waterfall that tumbles onto the beach and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls. This has been on my “to-do” list for quite some time. As I love to take pictures, and especially selfies, I’m a believer in the practice of taking routine, if not daily, selfies, I will frequently dream up opportunities for a great selfie and incorporate it into an activity. Once in a while, I will plan an activity around the idea for a selfie! My idea for a selfie for this particular hike was one of me doing a cartwheel in front of the waterfall and using my miniature tripod and the “Slo-Mo” feature on my iPhone to capture it. I’d then take a screenshot, mid slow-motion video, of the perfect moment of my cartwheel and the most epic selfie of the week would be executed. My hike to Alamere Falls occurred on a very warm, very pleasant, very popular, very crowded Saturday. Though the hike included a quarter mile of crouching through a narrow “poison oak tunnel”, and then required a rather dicey descent down a steep cliff from the top of the waterfall to the beach below, there were hordes of people on the beach. They had all somehow managed to carry umbrellas and picnic baskets and bags of food and blankets and all kinds of crap. It looked like South Beach in Florida during Spring Break. My plans for a selfie were instantly altered from cartwheel on deserted beach to a quick, opportunistic snapshot at the one and only and very precise moment when only the waterfall and I were visible in the viewfinder.

Scarlette Begonia

I still wanted to do a cartwheel, on the beach, selfie or no. But I was afraid. I haven’t done a cartwheel, like Jardin, in a very long time. Am I still capable? Able? What if I tried and failed? I’d be embarrassed. Or worse, maybe I’d be injured and given the state of the trail to the beach, I have to be evacuated to a trauma unit by helicopter! Not likely, I know, but I decided against it and headed back up the cliff, back through the poison oak tunnel, out to the main trail, on to the trailhead where I left my car. Failure.

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

I have similar fears about doing handstands in yoga class. I used to do handstands all the time, in the house, when my mom wasn’t looking. My bedroom door opens up onto a hallway and there used to be a perfectly blank wall right there, so I’d do a handstand and rest my heels against the wall. I did this for most of my childhood and even into early adulthood. As I moved back home, to the same house, a couple of years ago, to help Mom out, I’m back in that same room. However, the wall in the hallway is now adorned with a framed painting by Walter Keane that, for my entire childhood, hung from a wall downstairs in the family room. I often wonder if Mom moved the picture to thwart my secret and unstated desire to practice handstands in the hallway, at the age of 52, so I could hope to successfully perform a handstand in yoga class without trepidation.

Scarlette Begonia

What’s with this fear? And trepidation? What’s with the concern of being embarrassed if I mess up a handstand in yoga class or fall doing a cartwheel on the beach? I know not many 52 year old women are seen doing cartwheels on the beach or handstands, outside of yoga class, but I still want to do them.

Fear and embarrassment. So negative. So limiting. So unlike me.

I’ve thought about practicing cartwheels on the lawn in the backyard, but have been shy about it. The surrounding neighbors have two-story homes with windows that overlook our lawn. Unless I practice under a tree, they “might see me”. And what, I ask myself, would be wrong with that? They might be impressed, or amazed, or inspired! Or maybe they’d think I was odd or silly. So? So, today, this afternoon, after sitting on the deck, reading for a while, I fought back my fear, my trepidation, my embarrassment, my shyness, and I went down the steps and onto the lawn. Okay, yes, I hid under the cover of the boughs of the tree, and I very cautiously, very pensively, positioned myself to do a cartwheel. I did my little hop, skip, and then, just like being a kid; hand, hand, foot, foot. Perfection. I did another, and another, and another. I felt free, and young, and spirited. I felt amazing, I felt proud. I can still do cartwheels and shall now do them whenever and wherever I please. I will, in fact, now go down into the living room, as Mom has toddled off to bed, and I shall do a cartwheel!

Tomorrow morning, I will quickly vacuum the living room, just to lay the nap of the carpet back down.

Then, I think the Walter Keane will be occasionally removed from the hallway wall, when the TV is very loud downstairs, and I shall practice, to my delight, my handstands!

Because it makes me feel happy!

Insecurity Blanket

I remember a time when all I wanted was to be secure. I wanted to be certain, to the degree possible, that everything would be perfect, now, and in the future. I remember wishing for security, hoping for security, praying for security, planning for security. I’d go so far as to wish on stars, to hold my breath while driving through tunnels, and beg the universe for security. Security was the word I used to describe my resistance to change, my fear of change. Oddly, though, I wanted some change, but only on my terms, according to my overall plan for lasting security; the bigger house, the acreage, the newer car, a bigger paycheck, better performing investments, more clothes, more shoes, a bigger boat, horses, more pets. Happiness. Security.

Scarlette Begonia

And I was a prisoner. I was a slave. And I was insecure in my quest, my driving desire, for security. Things went according to plan for so very long, but I wasn’t completely happy, and I didn’t feel secure. There was always a sense of unease, uncertainty, at times, feelings of dread and doom.

As the economy worsened several years ago, my empire fell. The worst I could imagine, happened. Everything was lost. Everything material I’d worked for, for my entire adulthood, lost. The real estate, the acreage, the pets, the horses, the boat, my security, and the means to a secure future. But, in that precise moment when I knew it was all gone, I experienced a sense of peace, of calm, of, dare I say, joy. The burden had been lifted, I was no longer a prisoner, I was no longer a slave. I was, for the first time in my life, free. The shackles of security fell to the ground and I ran. I ran, I danced, I sang, my quest for security replaced with a quest for growth, adventure, uncertainty, and joy.

Scarlette Begonia

Since that time, not even a decade later, I’ve left my marriage, I’ve lost a lover, I’ve lost family, I’ve lost friends, children have grown and moved far, far away. Loss is change, and change, is part of life. There is comfort in being comfortable with change, loss, and with insecurity. Life is tenuous, life is exciting, life is not meant to be secure.

Security meant comfort. Comfort meant complacency. Complacency meant a headlong spiral into disaster. Life, now, is moment to moment. Life now is edgy. Life now is adventure and risk. Life now is real. And blissfully insecure. I am happy, almost always.

Oh, sure, I still find myself fretting over potential loss, thinking about “what could go wrong”, what could change in a manner I’m not cool with. And it is only at these moments that unhappiness and discontent seep into my world.

Scarlette Begonia

There is something very liberating in losing all the stuff. I look now, with pity, at people burdened with “all the things”, and ever in anguish about not having more. I’ve found so much freedom and joy in being “stuffless”, I often go through my remaining belongings, pulling things off shelves, out of drawers, bundling them up, and sending them away to become other people’s stuff. The sense of relief, with each and every purge, is indescribable.

Yes, there are “things” I want. I want a stand up paddle board right now. Does my life, my happiness, my sense of success, of purpose, depend on it? No. I can rent one any time. And, sure, I’d love for my current relationship to endure, but this is never a certainty. Do I let the uncertainty of permanence poison the beauty and joy I have right now? God, I try not to, I’m wonderfully imperfect, but I try.

In security, we are hopeless. In insecurity, once we understand it and embrace it, we are free and joyful. Security is imperfect. Security is a myth. Insecurity is growth, it is reality, and insecurity, like many good things in life, requires practice and thought, to understand, to embrace. In a blanket of insecurity, we find ourselves, our true selves; our passion, our joy, life. In a blanket of insecurity, we learn to take risks, to accept the present moment, each as they come, with gratitude. We learn to forsake the past, gleaning only the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We learn not to fret about the future, what will come will be right, in that future moment. We are not in control, and we lose control in our attempt. In insecurity, we have the chance to learn to be youthful, adventurous, and joyful. We learn to actually live.

Scarlette Begonia

So, like a small child with a ratty, old, blanket, required for comfort, for sleep, for security, there comes a time where it must be tossed into the trash. It must be discarded. When we embrace insecurity, blanket ourselves, instead, with the joy and opportunity in insecurity, we learn to live and we find joy.

Treadmills

I’m not one to succumb to fear, to even admit fear. I do have fears, plenty, but I seek to overcome them, to meet them, as a challenge, and annihilate them. I am far more afraid of dying in a recliner, clutching a remote, watching other people live fascinating lives on television than I am of ‘most anything else. I’m a doer, not a viewer.

An Effort to Evolve

Last year, I did admit to a fear; treadmills. Not treadmills themselves, but the act of running on a treadmill. I have completely obliterated that fear and can run quite effectively on treadmills now. And do, when I must. I will always prefer running outdoors, through the countryside, the suburbs, or bustling urban streets.

An Effort to Evolve

Then a video compilation of “treadmill fails” circulated around Facebook last week and I took pause, and reconsidered my former fear of treadmills. I shall remain steadfast in saying “I am not afraid of running on treadmills”, I do, however, have a healthy respect for them and I will exercise (no pun intended) due caution. In other words, you are not likely to see me on a treadmill a) in high heels b) on a pogo stick c) on a bicycle d) on a unicycle e) while roller blading f) on a skateboard g) on a stabilization ball, stabilization balls have no place on an unstable surface, that’s oxy-moronic (moronic being the key word there) and, finally, h) while someone else is monkeying with the speed setting.

An Effort to Evolve

Fair enough?

A fear of mine, though? Not making progress.

While reconsidering fear, and treadmills, my mind naturally wandered to how this applies to life. That’s just how I think. One of my “concerns”, or, fears, if you choose, is “the treadmill of progress”. Have you ever felt like you’ve done everything right? Set measurable goals, based on your roles in life and your core values? Made a daily, concerted effort towards that goal, day after day, week after week, month after month, and made no progress? No forward movement? The treadmill of progress; running, panting, sweating, still in the same place!

Have you ever noticed people at the gym who dutifully hop on the treadmill, poke a few buttons and stroll along for ten minutes, then head for the shower, and claim to have “worked out”? Versus those of us who ramp up the incline, the speed, and the duration, with every passing workout. You can hear me breathing across the gym when I’m on the treadmill. I kind of make a scene. Let’s not get started on a discussion about the step mill! I’m so sweaty I look like I’ve been swimming when I’m done! Though I am going nowhere, I am making progress.

An Effort to Evolve

But, again, when we’ve done everything right and we seem to be making no progress, we are expecting to be moving forward, but the scenery isn’t changing and we’re staying in one place, what’s gone wrong? We’re stuck on the treadmill of progress. What to do?

An Effort to Evolve

For consideration:

  1. Are we present? Are we remaining present in our work towards our goal, or are we anxiously focused on the future? Live in the present, in the moment and be grateful for what minute progress you made today. Don’t look at the whole fence when you’re painting, observe the stroke you make now and admire it. The fence will be finished soon enough.
  2. Are we grateful. We must express gratitude for what accomplishment we’ve made, for the attempt that’s been made, for the effort put forth. If we are ungrateful of our efforts, our progress will be lost in the bitterness. Praise yourself and your toils.
  3. Are we breaking the goal down into small enough steps? Have we sharpened our axe? As Abe Lincoln once (supposedly) said, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s a good quote, whether Abe said it, or not. There is some debate. Anyhow, we should be breaking each goal down to the level of what can be accomplished in a month, a week, today, and, finally, to “what could I do this very moment to further this goal?” We often bite off way more than we can chew. Take smaller bites.
  4. My n’er do well friend, Jardin, wrote an article earlier this week about making excuses, and making adjustments. Sometimes we need to look at the whole picture and figure out what we may be doing, or allowing, that is undermining our progress.
  5. Reconsider the goal. Is it still meaningful, is it still valuable to us? Or have we grown past the goal? Maybe the goal is no longer something we consider worthy, or necessary, and we’ve just been plugging away at it for so long, it has become a habit. A meaningless habit and a waste of precious time that could be better spent elsewhere. Not every goal we set is meant to be met, accomplished and kept. We should be reevaluating and reprioritizing our goals regularly. More frequently, if necessary!

An Effort to Evolve

So, by all means, keep running on the treadmill. But make sure you’re making progress, adjust the settings as necessary, exercise care, and, for heavens sake, don’t fall flat on your face!

Stuck

How many times have I suggested we all face our fears? How many times have I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on fear? You’d probably think I’m some completely fearless, super brave, incredibly courageous soul. I’m not. I’m quite ordinary, in most respects, and fears are no different. I have a healthy amount of fear, and I do strive to face them head on. I used to be afraid to fly. Some time between childhood and motherhood, I became afraid to fly. I didn’t like being out of control, unable to take over, if necessary. I fly all the time now, without a fearful thought, or nary a concern or worry. I’m a bit afraid of heights, yet I rock climb, I cross streams, backpacking, on narrow log bridges, I’ve been skydiving, and love it.

I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.
I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.

I’m afraid of elevators. I mean, I ride them. All the time. I have to. Well, I don’t HAVE to, but I often work in very tall buildings in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. When I go to the gym and work out on the step mill, I briskly walk up 72 flights of stairs, at a steady cadence, without stopping. It takes me fifteen minutes. Then I proceed with forty-five more minutes of cardio, followed by weights or an hour and a half of yoga. But I’m really, really sweaty, after just the step mill. So, yes, I could walk to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, but I’d be too gross and sweaty to make a good impression on my clients! So, I opt for the elevator.

I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.
I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.

Why do I fear elevators? Well, actually, I think they’re fun. I like the roller coaster dropping tummy feeling on a high-speed elevator, and, yes, if alone, I will jump when the elevator first moves. It’s not the elevator moving, it’s the potential for the elevator to stop moving. With me in it. Between floors. I’m afraid of being stuck in an elevator.

An Effort to Evolve

Upon entering an elevator, whether I’m at a hotel and only have three floors to travel and opted for the elevator only because I have two full suitcases, or because I’m all dressed up for work and have thirty floors to go in an office building, I always look at the inspection tag to see if the elevator has had its regular, required inspection. If it hasn’t, I fret. Just a little.

This past week, I stayed in a hotel with a lurchy, creaky, elevator, minus the required posted inspection tags altogether. I used it only twice; suitcases up day one and suitcases down for check out. I took the stairs the rest of the time. Three floors, no big. The office building I worked in this week had five floors, there are four elevators, complete with inspection tags, all in good order. I have worked in this office building a dozen times, weeks at a time, year after year. Up, down, up, down, up, down. The elevators lurch and creak and moan and smell kind of like hot lubricant of some sort, but the tags are up to date and everyone seems to rely on them. Except for Chuck. He takes the stairs. But that’s kind of just Chuck.

The other day, my last day with this client, this month, we were on our way to lunch. We had a very full afternoon ahead of us and were intent on getting back to work within an hour. A group of us waited for the elevator. I was headed to lunch with a manager and several of my students were headed to lunch together. So, there were probably six or seven of us in the elevator, in all. We lurched down a few floors, from the fifth to the second. Who takes an elevator DOWN one flight? The biggest, fattest, hairiest, sweatiest, most loud, obnoxious, boorish, attorney I’ve ever witnessed, that’s who. At the second floor, the doors part and here stands this rotund man in a suit, with a briefcase. The elevator was full. Full with just us, six or seven accountants. Well, auditors, actually. The good kind, not I.R.S. auditors. I scoot back and welcome the portly man in, saying something about “the more the merrier”. I’d just been teaching my class about risk assessment, so I cracked a joke, an “audit” joke, something about “what’s the risk?” At about that time, the doors clenched shut and the elevator did nothing. It didn’t lurch or groan or moan or smell, it just sat there. I could feel my eyes grow about six times their usual size. I’d jinxed the elevator. My mind was racing, so I’m not sure if the voice I heard was the voice of terror in my mind, or if one of my students said, “you jinxed it!”

The fat dude in the suit was way in my personal space, not that anyone had much personal space, but he was definitely way too close to me, with his back turned to me. All I could do was stare at the stubbly, gray hair growing down the nape of his neck and into the collar of his shirt. You know, the hair that most suit wearing men with short hair have shaved neatly? And I marveled, too, at the sheer amount of fabric that made up his suit. I was closest to the buttons, me and Goliath. We both took turns pressing all of them. We finally thought to use the phone in the little compartment of the elevator, beneath the button panel. I could open the little door, but I couldn’t reach the phone without bending over, which I couldn’t do because there was a man wall in my way, so the man wall clutched at the phone with his pudgy fist. Whoever answered that phone got an earful of belligerence and threats and cuss words. The building superintendent and a technician would be sent immediately, we were told.

An Effort to Evolve

Since the elevator hadn’t moved, we were still right at the second floor. We, the auditors, stood passively, quietly, shifting from foot to foot. The massive attorney fumed and shifted and swore. When we could hear voices on the other side of the door, the super and the tech, we assumed, the lawyer yelled obscenities at them and threatened them. I’m thinking; a) great, piss them off and we’ll never get out of here b) there is no fan running and no fresh air source, how much oxygen is this gas bag wasting being an ass hat? c) oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I’m a bit claustrophobic and I was starting to feel pretty panicky. I could just see me totally losing it. No, actually, I couldn’t envision that at all. I’m very stoic, I’d freak out on the inside, but look totally normal on the outside. I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I decide to practice my deep breathing, like when I meditate, to calm myself, to focus. I focus on my breath, quietly. It wasn’t like I was in the corner doing an ujjayi breath, or Lamaze panting, or anything like that. I just breathed real slow, real quiet and real deep and focused on that for a bit.

Minutes passed. Everyone was fixated on their respective phones, scrolling, texting, playing “Words with Friends”. I’d taken a picture and posted it to several social media sites. Just feet, I took a picture of a whole bunch of dress shoes atop a worn elevator carpet and captioned it “stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors”. I got no comments, ever. One of my students endeavored to find “elevator music” on his phone and settled for Miles Davis, which I was quite enjoying. But, with each passing minute, the zombie apocalypse version of Rush Limbaugh that stood in front of me would launch into another tirade of curse words, empty threats and large clouds of carbon dioxide.

Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.
Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.

More time passed. I was still focusing on my breathing and had begun to prioritize the afternoon agenda, deciding which topics could be omitted and not cause any of these up and coming auditors to neglect detecting fraud in some high profile audit. I began to panic again. So much responsibility, teaching auditors to audit. The future of the stock market, of capitalism itself, in my hands. One undetected fraudulent act, one missed material misstatement, because of a glossed over agenda item in an auditing CPE class and western civilization and the barely recovering economy, lost. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm. Sanity restored. Perspective regained.

The Incredible Hulk started yelling again. The building super and the tech hadn’t made any progress. They’ve called the “repair guy”, who is “on his way”. We know not from where. Hulk roars; more obscenities, more threats, less oxygen for us all. I’ve taken my winter coat off. I managed to slide my very heavy handbag down to the floor, careful that the gold tassel I so covet doesn’t get trod on by the Clydesdale man beast.

More minutes pass. It’s getting uncomfortably stuffy and hot. I began to worry about a) enough fresh air to sustain us all b) long term, if we are to be stuck in the elevator for weeks, let’s say, who’s going Donner party on whom? c) my hair is going to start frizzing out of control. We heard another voice join the chorus “on the other side”. The repairman. King Kong goes ape shit and actually says, first thing, without any information or indication, without any provocation, “are you fucking Union?” Great. We’re in here for life. One of my mild mannered students, a sweet Kosher kid, finally snaps and says, politely, articulately, “I really don’t think that’s helping.” I’m waiting for punches to be thrown, when, suddenly, the elevator doors begin to part. A hand from outside appears between them, then another, and then the doors are pulled apart. And we walked out, filed down the stairs one floor, out into the cool, fresh Long Island air, and over to Bobby’s Burger Palace for a quick lunch. We left rabid Shrek behind, yelling and cursing and threatening our saviors.

Bobby Flay's L.A. Burger at Bobby's Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)
Bobby Flay’s L.A. Burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)

Have you ever been overwhelmingly, hopelessly stuck in the elevator of life? Have you ever felt like your life isn’t moving in the direction you thought it would, isn’t moving at all? Do you ever panic or worry or fret, curse, yell or threaten, when things just aren’t progressing? Have you ever felt angry or stressed or sad, depressed, bitter, discouraged, at being stuck where you are? Just like being stuck in the elevator, being stuck in life is temporary, everything, after all, is temporary. Everything will pass, guaranteed. Just breathe deeply, be calm, regain your focus, get some clarity, persevere, and things will work out. If your goal is to go up, or down, in an elevator and the elevator breaks, you still, eventually, get where you intend to go. Or you die. Either way, the being stuck part ends. So, too, in life.

In that elevator, stuck at the second floor, when I felt my irrational panic begin to rise, I recalled lessons in meditation I’ve been practicing. I learned, again, in practicality, that I can control how I react, even if I can’t control the situation. This is something I knew, already, and practice, and preach. But to have it presented to me in a situation I have always feared, always dreaded, reinforced the lesson in such a tangible, tactile fashion, I shall never forget it.

After lunch, when we returned to the classroom, our tale was shared with those who took another elevator, or the stairs. One of the managers told a tale, of her husband, who’d been stuck in an elevator, in Rockefeller Center, when there was a power outage in New York City. They were between floors, in that elevator car, for over five hours. The rescue crew had to break through the wall to the elevator car to then pry the doors open. I listened, in awe, in horror, and my immediate thought was “I’d never survive!” Of course I would survive. Of course I would. I’d come out of it wiser and better able to cope. Or in a straight jacket. Nah.

When I think of the “unsurvivable” things I’ve not only lived through, but from which I’ve ended up growing, evolving, and drawing a great deal of strength from; the death of friends, of family members, the parting of ways of once best friends, divorce, foreclosure, losing the dream ranch, re-homing pets, re-homing rescued horses, low self-esteem, an unhealthy lifestyle. And no regrets, ever, without those “tragedies” and experiences, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now. I was stuck in those situations, in those patterns, in that lifestyle. And now I’m not. They were temporary. I breathed my way through, got clarity and focus and persevered. I’m sure you’ve been stuck in your own elevators in life, and you’ve made it through. What have you learned? That you’ll make it through, at the least. But, did you learn from it, too? Do you carry those lessons with you, to draw from in whatever temporary situation you’re in now, that you’ll face later?

Perhaps you’re stuck right now! Whether you’re stuck in an elevator, in line at Target, in traffic, or in a dead end job, a damaging relationship, an unfulfilling career, an unhealthy lifestyle, in indecision, in a state of depression, or in a world of self loathing and poor self esteem, know that all things are temporary, and with meditation, focus, clarity, time and perseverance, we will get unstuck. Keeping rational, and breathing through it, though, will allow us not just to triumph, but to also glean a life lesson we can remember and draw from, again, if, or more accurately, when, we get stuck next. Going up?

 

 

 

 

What I Learned From a Squirrel

I was puttering about in the kitchen yesterday morning, fixing breakfast and doing dishes. The kitchen is what I consider traditional, there is a window over the kitchen sink. I consider this normal and have had a couple of abnormal kitchens in my life. I hated them. It should be part of the building code; kitchen sink placement shall be beneath a window with a view to the outdoors, preferably to a pleasing view. Since I currently live in the house I grew up in, and there is a window over the kitchen sink, and the view is quite pleasing, I suppose my high expectations are well-explained.

As I puttered about in the kitchen, at the sink, glancing out to the pleasing view on occasion, I noticed a squirrel. Our squirrels are numerous and are big and fat and gray. Growing up, Mom used to name the squirrels, based on the characteristics of their tails. There was Wispy Tail and Bushy Tail and Fluffy Tail. Those are the ones I remember. I don’t remember, though, actually being able to discern one squirrel from the other quite as well as Mom. At a young age, I assumed this was a gift that came with wisdom and maturity. No. They still look all the same to me, I do consider myself at least somewhat more wise and mature than when I was a tot. Last week, I saw four different squirrels scampering around the back yard at the same time, two in one tree, a third high in the branches, navigating from one tree to another, the squirrel highway system, I suppose. The fourth squirrel was on the fence between our yard and the ravine where a seasonal creek runs during the wetter months, or the wetter month, or the one wet week we have each year.

I observed the single squirrel, yesterday, on the deck railing, not too terribly far from the window where I stood. The squirrel was preoccupied with his nuts. I watched as he flitted from one point to another, looking for a good place to hide his nuts. He twitched his tail continuously as he fretted over one locale, then another.

I mentioned to Mom that there was a squirrel on the deck and she asked, “Oh, is it Fluffy Tail?” I replied, “Um, I don’t know?” They all have fluffy tails as far as I can tell. “Fluffy Tail is the only squirrel left,” Mom stated with a melancholy tone, “he’s the only squirrel I ever see anymore.” Mom’s world is one of scarcity, these days. I told her I saw four squirrels at one time, in the backyard, earlier in the week. She didn’t seem convinced, or didn’t hear me. Either way. And at least I was off the hook for proper squirrel identification, as far as I was concerned. If Fluffy Tail is the “only” squirrel left, then the squirrel on the deck MUST be Fluffy Tail. And, so, I’d probably be right to say that every squirrel in a hundred mile radius is also Fluffy Tail. That certainly makes it easier, and a lot less mysterious. I shall no longer worry or be mystified by proper squirrel names. It’s all kind of nutty, anyway, if you ask me.

Mom continued to muse, now watching the squirrel, busy with his nuts, “I always wondered if they were pooping when they twitched their tails like that, or is that how they balance?” My logical and over-analytical mind has to assume the latter, otherwise, the world as I know it would be a foot deep in squirrel shit, I reckon. And, to add further credence, I don’t know that I’ve ever, in my life, seen squirrel shit. Anywhere. I think it must just be vapor, or dust or some other particulate matter that does not accumulate. Another mystery.

I watched the squirrel, he watched me.

Squirrels are everywhere, I know, to the point where we kind of take them for granted. I’ve only lived in one place where there were no squirrels. We had rats the size of squirrels, but no squirrels. This was sort of a depressed and crime-ridden neighborhood, a stepchild suburb of Sacramento. The area was populated by the down and out, with many Section 8 rentals, there were houses that were rumored to be meth labs, and, for the most part, from what I could tell, the demographics were what I’d consider “white trash” and “rednecks”. Not that they are one in the same, but, coincidentally, are often found in the same areas. I don’t want to make any inappropriate correlations, but I found it interesting that there were no squirrels, at all, in this neighborhood, in spite of the many mature trees and ample food supply. I’m thinking the squirrels, themselves, were considered an ample food supply by some of the residents in the area.  I’ve never cooked or eaten squirrel, but I’m pretty sure if I ever wanted to, I could knock on ‘most any door in that neighborhood and be obliged.

I lived in another neighborhood that had plentiful squirrels that were both a joy and a relief to see, after the previous situation. There was one demonic squirrel, though, and he frequented a tree on our property, that had several large limbs that arched over our wide, graveled driveway. On more than one occasion, as I made my way to or from the house and car, this particular squirrel would chatter and scold me, then throw, not just drop, but throw, with force and with malice aforethought, an object at me. Once, caught unaware, I got beaned in the head with an apple and almost lost consciousness! There’s a squirrel worth looking up a recipe for!

For those areas where squirrels haven’t been hunted and eaten to extinction, we’ll find geographic differences, some have smaller squirrels, some squirrels are brown, or red, or striped. The college I attended has fricking scary squirrels! They will crawl right up on your lap and try to pry food from your fingers, staring intently at the food with one eye and into your eyes with the other. I swear it. There are squirrels on campus that are nearly as large as some of the more petite students. Big, scary, damn squirrels. I was sitting on a bench beneath a tree one day, knowing me I was probably studying, for the first time, for an exam the very next hour, and something sizable whizzed past my head from above and landed with a frightening thud on the ground next to me. A squirrel. I feared he’d be injured, or dead, from the fall from the top of the stately sycamore tree next to me. Nope. He stood up, sized me up, and, once convinced I had no food, scampered back up the tree. A few minutes later another student sat at a nearby bench, and, moments later, whump, the same squirrel landed on the dirt next to that bench. This squirrel was so obsessed with food, apparently, that it chose the fastest route to the ground to be the first, of thousands of squirrels, to pry food from a human’s hands. Scary, scary, scary squirrels.

I’ve been on a few backpacking adventures at Philmont Scout Ranch outside of Cimarron, New Mexico. Here, the little ground squirrels are called, and not with an air of fondness, but more one of disdain, “mini-bears”. If food is not handled and stored according to the best of “bear proofing” standards, if not the real bears, then for certain the mini-bears, will chew through anything to get at any morsel of edible matter, including dehydrated backpacking food and greasy, nasty, “squeeze-cheese”, which, I’m sure, isn’t cheese at all. If you set your daypack down for three seconds, when you pick it up again, there will likely be a mini-bear inside, having either deftly unlatched the nearly human proof latches, or, usually, having gnawed a squirrel-sized hole in the bottom of the pack. Varmints.

I especially like the bubonic plague carrying squirrels that populated the Sierras there for a while. Not.

Fluffy Tail isn’t quite so terrifying, trouble causing, diseased, or demonic, he’s not menacing at all, and seems, actually, to have an appropriate amount of wariness about me, on the other side of the glass, a good twenty feet away. And though I’ve seen squirrels on practically a daily basis, for most of my life, this morning, I was drawn to watch Fluffy Tail’s antics.

And, as with everything in life, I learned something.

It doesn’t’ really matter if everyone can see your nuts ~

A nut "hidden" in the bird feeder.
A nut “hidden” in the bird feeder.

Show the world what you’re made of. In most things in life, we kind of just have to put it out there; to grow, to develop, to evolve, to succeed, we can’t quietly hide away, keeping our talents, our passions, our abilities, hidden or secret. The more willing and able we are to step out of our comfort zone and make ourselves known, the more comfortable we are with being uncomfortable, the more we have to gain. Take risks, take chances, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, get up, brush yourself off, laugh it off and take a different approach. Don’t ever let fear or insecurities dictate your actions or compromise your goals or your dreams. Get out there and show off your nuts!

Take chances in making connections, fostering relationships, establishing a network both professionally and personally. Every connection you make is a two way street with good will running in both directions. Never allow yourself to miss an opportunity to connect with people, and those opportunities exist 24/7/365. I don’t mean social networking, though it has its place, I’m talking about real, tangible connected relationships with real people, outside of the comforts of your house. Get out there and show off your nuts!

It doesn’t really matter if everyone can see you’re nuts ~

A nut "hidden" on the deck railing.
A nut “hidden” on the deck railing.

Take pride in your uniqueness and individuality, even if you do march to the beat of a different drummer. How refreshing is it to meet people who are confident, outgoing and a little bit zany? It’s our differences, our unique qualities, our one-of-a-kind way of looking at things or doing things that make us special. Who wants to blend in with the crowd? Most great inventors and achievers in our time were thought to be out of their minds for the ideas and their commitment to see those ideas through; Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and the list goes on and on. In fact, you’d better be a little nuts if you have any intention of succeeding, it’s part of the process, to keep trying in the face of repeated failure; also know as the definition of insanity.

Be quick  ~

Be quick.
Be quick.

Life is short, there is no time to waste, not a single second. Every second of every day should be put to good use in furthering our evolution. I’m not saying you have to work sixteen hour days to get ahead, I’m saying that no time should be wasted. Time put to good use includes time for adequate rest, some stimulating and interesting adventures, appropriate time for relaxation, reflection and meditation, time for good nutrition and adequate physical exertion, time for love and for nurturing relationships and friendships, time for acquiring knowledge, for developing new interests, hobbies, pastimes, time for exploring possible new career avenues or technologies. Plan and use your time carefully and guard it judiciously. Time is not refundable, expires quickly and cannot be retrieved or replenished. Use it ever so wisely.

Have some nuts – be fearless ~

Be fearless.
Be fearless.

Have respect, exercise caution, but refuse to be fearful. Don’t make me quote Eleanor Roosevelt again.

Freeze ~

Freeze.
Freeze.

Stop, observe, then decide what action is appropriate. Be thoughtful, reflective and contemplative, but don’t dwell or belabor. Be decisive, with discretion. You can see any prey animal you encounter freeze, momentarily, and in those seconds, a life or death decision is made. Have you ever seen a deer deliberate over whether to run or go back to grazing for more than a few seconds? And yet, the life of the deer depends on that split second decision and usually multiple times a day. True, we are predators, most often, and have been given the luxury of time to mull things over, we’ve also been given incredible intelligence, which is both a blessing and our bane. We are capable of acting quickly and rashly, often to our detriment.  We are equally as capable of being unable to make a timely decision, again, usually to our detriment. Observe the squirrel; freeze, watch, and decide; scamper or get back to taking care of your nuts.

Don’t keep all you nuts in one place ~

Don't keep all your nuts in one place.
Don’t keep all your nuts in one place.

Have a variety of interests, develop goals for each role you serve in your life, nurture your passions, follow your causes. We have a remarkable amount of energy if we know how to appropriately develop it and use it. We all have the individual ability to change the world in a positive way. Together, our changes can amount to amazing things. Explore every avenue.

Don’t forget where you put your nuts ~

Don't forget where you put your nuts.
Don’t forget where you put your nuts.

Be organized. De-clutter your life, de-clutter your mind. Much of success, personal and professional, arises from efficiency. Efficiency is never gained in a cluttered space or in a cluttered mind. A place for everything, everything in its place, including your nuts. Every effort you take to cut the clutter is going to result in a freeing and liberating euphoria. Clutter in our midst and in our minds robs us of energy, vitality and precious, precious time. One of the best books I’ve read this year was a book on minimalism, “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. I have a ways to go, but, yes, every step towards minimalism is truly bliss.

Sample your nuts ~

Sample your nuts.
Sample your nuts.

Whoever made cookies without having a spoonful of cookie dough? Liar. Everything we do speaks to our reputation. Double check everything before you release it to the universe; thoughts, words and actions all deserve a quick sample before we decide to unleash them for the rest of the world. What we send out comes back our way, guaranteed. Think positive, speak kindly, act with valor, honor and integrity, and as a result, live richly.

Know when to stop hiding your nuts ~

Know when to stop hiding your nuts.
Know when to stop hiding your nuts.

Know when to stop working and focus on what really matters in life; you, your health, your family, relationships and friendships. Voluminous are stories of people so driven to work and succeed in their careers that they lost everything that truly, truly mattered. Every day should have ample time in it to savor that which you cherish, beginning with yourself, your health and well-being, for it is a healthy you that will be able to love, nurture and provide for those you care for for a much greater time. It is a healthy you that is a happier and more relaxed you, a you that those you care for will so enjoy spending time with. Get your priorities straight. Jobs come and go, no job is worth sacrificing health, family, relationships and friendships for.

The real lesson here, I’d have to say, is to learn to stop, look out the window, and to find value in everything you observe. Lessons in life are everywhere, we only need to stop fussing with our nuts long enough to pay attention, and learn.

Go nuts.

Scarlett’s Letter December 16, 2013

For the record, today got off to a much better start than yesterday, by design.

Off to a better start, by design. Did "my things" before going downstairs for breakfast.
Off to a better start, by design. Did “my things” before going downstairs for breakfast.

Today I did something terrifying. Something absolutely terrifying, something I’ve contemplated doing many times in the past three years, and I’ve always chickened out. Always. No matter how many Eleanor Roosevelt quotes I read, I chickened out. No, not skydiving. That was a pip. No, not running on a treadmill, I’ve nearly mastered that.  Today. Today, yes, today, I actually did it. I went to a spin class.

I’d no sooner run with the bulls or miss a BOGO sale at DSW than humiliate myself in a spin class. The people, the equipment, the stories, I’ve had friends say they fell off the bike, how do you fall off a stationary bike? Worst of all, the terrifying instructors, have you seen them? All super fit and up on that bike, on a pedestal, at the front of the class, able to shout loud enough to be heard over the music despite, their impressive level of exertion; demanding you stand up to pedal, turn up the resistance, pedal faster! My God! It is all just an episode of “Jackass” as far as I’m concerned, death defying and stupid, and lots of people are going to laugh really, really hard. At me. They might laugh so hard that Gatorade shoots out their nostrils, or they may laugh so hard they wet their little Lycra bike shorts! Or both!

It wasn’t so bad. Like marathon runners, spinners actually seem quite mortal, human, even. Of course, like everything I do, I had a very logical and strategic approach. I decided to go to the mid-day class. I figured the really rabid spin class folks I’ve seen waiting, frothing at the mouth, outside the classroom, at peak morning and evening hours, would likely be at work. I figured the mid-day class would be housewives and retirees. I was pretty much right. There were six of us. One lady just sat and pedaled at 45 rpm the entire time, with the exception of the water breaks, where she took it easier. No disrespect, she was there and it wasn’t her first time. Where have I been? Cowering over by the cardio equipment, watching the spin class in wide-eyed fear through the five inch wide glass in the door.

I got to the spin room early enough, I was the first, actually, fifteen minutes before the instructor arrived, in fact, in order to chat with the instructor to learn how to fit the bike and what the “commands” were. And it wasn’t so bad. Kind of like having a pit bull come racing towards you only to wag its tail and lick your hand, roll over on its back and wet itself. With this first class under my belt, or Lycra waistband, I now have the confidence to increase the resistance a little more, next time, and, even, maybe, attend a peak-hour class.

The next more fearsome thing I did today; I got on the scale. Oops. Time for atonement, and for toning a bit. It has been a long six-week jaunt from city to city, restaurant to restaurant and that sneaky ten snuck back on. Not that weight matters, but, I have been favoring my more forgiving Aeropostale “boyfriend” jeans to my sizable wardrobe of “Miss Me’s”. Gaining ten during busy travel season is typical, for me. Most of it will be gone by Christmas. Mom doesn’t understand why I won’t share her Panattone bread with her every morning for breakfast, “it’s Christmas”, she says. Um, no, it’s December 16th. On December 25th, Christmas, I might have a piece of Panattone bread. With butter. She warned, “what if it’s all gone by then?” Then I guess I won’t have any. There is a big difference between “it’s Christmas” and “it’s Christmas”. A month of indulgence is much worse than a day, or even two or three.

Ah, but I am not totally fearless. I was headed to Roseville, east of Sacramento, for happy hour with a ladies “Meet-Up” group I’ve been active with for a couple of years. They are a super nice group of women and so worth the hour and a half drive to socialize with for an event now and again. I knew the drive might take a little longer, with happy hour being, also, commute time, and I planned accordingly. I did not, however, anticipate the road construction ensnarled traffic I encountered on Highway 12 which links Napa’s Highway 29 to the rest of the country via Interstate 80. It took me nearly an hour just to get to Highway 12, which usually takes me about eleven minutes. This drive at 3:00 PM is far different than at my usual 3:00 AM. Afraid I’d arrive just in time to leave, again, I aborted and returned home. It is not often you will hear me say “afraid”, but there it is, at the beginning of a sentence. Figures, too, my hair was perfect, for the first time in a month, my outfit was smashing, new top from Victoria’s Secret, and rockin’ new black boots. Drat.

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter.
Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter.

Guess I’ll take a “selfie”. Then put my baggy ol’ sweats and slippers on. And have a beer. Then go fix dinner. And do laundry, my gym clothes stink.

Perfect hair.
Perfect hair.
New blouse
New blouse
New boots (which you can't see).
New boots (which you can’t see).
Guess I'll fix dinner and do laundry.
Guess I’ll fix dinner and do laundry.
Jammies and beer.
Jammies and beer.

Scarlett’s Letter November 17, 2013

Dear Friends,

Today, I ran. It was the only thing on my agenda, so that’s the only thing I did. I ran. Twenty-two miles.

People run for different reasons. A girl I knew in high school went to college at U.C. Davis in pursuit of her “MRS” degree. She ran around the medical school building every morning in her cute, little, running shorts and her perfect, shiny brown hair in a bouncy little ponytail. She is now one half of Dr. and Mrs. So-and-so. Some run for the runners’ high, some strictly to lose weight, some because they always have. I run as proof to myself that I can overcome any self-imposed limitation I may ever have believed about myself. Most of my adulthood, from my late teen years on, I believed I was “not a runner”. Which, of course, is ludicrous. If you can put one foot in front of another at a pace slightly more elevated than a walk, well, then, you’re a runner.

Yesterday, my running club held their annual “long run”. Buses are hired and all who wish to go board the buses well before dawn. The buses are unloaded in Folsom, near Folsom Lake, and the runners run twenty-two miles, along the lovely and scenic American River Parkway, back to their cars, in their respective pace groups. Running in a group is nice, you have people to chat with and the coaches are helpful, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and, with SacFit, there are volunteers stationed behind a folding table, beneath a pop-up sunshade, stationed every so many mile, offering Gatorade, water and healthful snacks, and even a few less than healthful snacks, like Oreos and M&M’s, two of my all time favorite foods I hardly ever allow myself to eat. Yesterday, while they ran, chatting and sharing, eating and having fun, I was flying home from New York.

I knew I HAD to run the twenty-two miles. Last year, I ran with the group, but only because I wanted to. This year, I have to put the mileage on. This year, in three short weeks, I run my first full marathon; 26.2 miles. I’ve never run 26.2 miles before. I’ve run twenty-two, a year ago, and suffered from a pain in my right Achilles for two months afterwards. I had to run this twenty-two, today, and know that this year I’d trained appropriately, that there would be no pain and, three weeks from today, I’d be able to complete the 26.2 California International Marathon.

A bit weary from this week’s travels, and it being an emotionally wearing and a somewhat harrowing work week, too, I did allow myself to sleep as long as I needed last night. On very rare occasions in my life, I have a day where I can sleep without any kind of an alarm to end such sleep, abruptly, rudely, but, necessarily. Today was just such a day. I slept until nearly 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, and, considering I’ve been living in Eastern Standard Time all week long, that actually equates to the darned near noon.

I arose and went about preparing a large, nutritious breakfast; two eggs, sunny side up, draped over two pieces of sprouted grain toast, a bowl of plain Greek yogurt with local, organic honey stirred in and organic raspberries atop. And a kiwi. And the largest Latte money could buy. I bought coffee last weekend, I’d used the last little bit I had. When I went to make coffee the following morning, I found, much to my dismay, it was whole bean. Whole bean is fine, except I’d just moved all the boxes out of Mom’s garage to a storage unit a few miles away, and in one of those boxes is my coffee grinder. Since then, the few days I’ve been home, I’ve just gone and bought a coffee. This is tomorrow’s goal; go to storage. Get coffee grinder.

After breakfast, I went about preparing for my run, also known as procrastinating. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking forward to it, but there is a bit of a mental challenge in psyching oneself up to lace up the dusty old sneakers and run out the door. I drove my intended route yesterday, with Mom. I had an idea which direction, which road, I’d run, but I really didn’t know where eleven miles would get me, where my turnaround point would be. We drove and drove and drove. It was really fricking far away! To say this messed with my mind a bit would be a little bit of an understatement. I might have mentioned it on the phone a time, maybe twelve, with my Sweetie last night. This morning, a text that said, “Have a great run and remember, you do this because you enjoy it, not because you have to,” followed by a emoticon winking and blowing a kiss. A man who is supportive, practical, wise and rational. Sigh.

Mom always wants to know how long I’ll be, she wants to set an alarm to remind herself at precisely what time she should begin to worry. No matter how far I’m running, she suggests two hours. I can say with absolute certainty, I will never run at eleven miles an hour. It was, by now, about 11:00 AM, I told her not to begin to worry until 6:00 PM. She questioned me, “seven hours?” “Yes”, I replied, what if I decide to walk the whole thing? I’m going twenty-two miles whether I walk or run, and I like to leave my options open.

Off I went.

It was a fabulous day in the Napa-hood, sunny and about sixty-five degrees. I walked to the end of my street, started my running app on my phone, started my Garmin running watch and started running. I passed a squirrel at about a half mile, he had a walnut in his mouth and eyed me like a lion her prey. “Yes, I know” I said to the squirrel, “I’m nuts!” He dashed across the street, I dashed along the shoulder towards my goal. Before I left the house I’d posted to Facebook, “I missed the traditional “long run” with SacFit yesterday because I was in flight. So, today, on my own, I set out for 20 some miles, the last long run before tapering down in preparation for the California International Marathon in three short weeks. Here is my plan, please comply should you witness me in route: I will do this, by myself, unassisted. I am, however, taking a couple of dollars and a bus schedule, just in case. I am also in possession of my credit card in case I just decide to get a large meal and a hotel room in Yountville, my halfway point, rather than run home.” I got thirteen likes. So far.

I ran and ran and ran. My practice, which we do in our running club, is to run for five minutes and walk for one. My second or third walk break found me very close to my close friend’s house. I run by her house frequently and I have instructed her to do no more than wave should she ever see me. I am on a mission and that is that. Her house is at the bottom of the only hill I must traverse. It isn’t a mountain or anything, but it is a hill and I do pant a little after running up it. I always hope I will reach the hill at precisely the time my watch indicates it’s time for a walk break, but that has yet to happen. Just as I was chugging up the hill, my friend’s husband drove past. I waved. And kept running.

I ran and ran and ran. I need some way to transcribe my thoughts to text while I run. The whole while I’m running I am writing in my head and I write the most perfectly and intricately phrased passages! Articles and articles of them. And when I get home and finally sit in front of a computer I just dither along stupidly patching odd, choppy sentences together. It is maddening. I ran and ran and ran.

You never know what to expect when you run on Sunday in the Napa Valley. I ran last Sunday and saw approximately five cars in twelve miles. Today, there was a great deal of traffic, mostly older people in enormous cars, barely visible over the steering wheel. There were also a number of really defiant young drivers who wouldn’t slow for anyone or anything. They all wore this disaffected expression, head cocked to one side, that said, pretty much, “I see you and I don’t care.” And, on weekends, there are the tourists, driving from one winery to the next, parting with $25 at each for a few short pours of wine, and, when the sommelier offers a bonus pour, no one turns it down. One must get every last penny’s worth and every last drop at every winery visited. Then, behind the wheel and off to the next. On more than one occasion I actually exited my clearly marked shoulder for the ditch. Several drivers crossed the wide white painted line that acts as the only “barrier” between a couple tons of metal hurtling towards me and, well, me, a small, extremely vulnerable and unprotected human form plodding along the shoulder.

When I tell people that I run, often they implore, incredulously, “Aren’t you scared?” No. There is little I am afraid of, I am of afraid, mostly, of fear, and that’s about it. Fear is one of the biggest limiters in life, and that, quite frankly, scares the shit out of me. I married a man ruled by fear; deeply paranoid, anxious, depressed and fearful, his many fears fueled by a constant influx of “news” and “media”, all justifying his usually false and unfounded fears. His fear, his unfounded fear, grew to the proportion that any activity or event that required him to leave home, to pry his fingers from the keyboard of his laptop, to remove his wide, fearful gaze from the internet screen he was currently absorbing, caused extreme agitation, anxiety and physical discomfort in the extreme and debilitating form of fits of irritable bowel syndrome. His fear was so extreme that, eventually, it cost him everything we worked for in life; a ranch, a house in town, all of our savings, his ability to work, and, ultimately, his family. Fear, unchecked, destroys lives. Fear can even kill, that second of fearful hesitation can mean the difference between an appropriate reaction and a catastrophe. I’m not saying not to be aware, perhaps exercise reasonable caution. I am saying don’t be afraid.

Besides, what’s to be feared more, running down a road, able to view and observe and react to danger as it presents itself? Or sitting in front of a televion in a house that could be full of radon gases, the televion emitting electromagnetic waves and the danger of early death from a sedentary, but seemingly safe lifestyle? Yes, I’m being extreme, or am I? Fear is relative and we are all surrounded by fearsome things, if we choose to be, only if we choose to be. Sure, I passed two roadside shrines for those who lost their lives to wayward cars, and this is sobering for those of us who run and ride by. One roadside shrine was brand new, as in, it wasn’t there last week. Shit. So, I pay keen attention. But, think about it, when a family member or a friend or an acquaintance dies as a result of a sedentary life, a life led from the couch, no one ever erects a shrine, no one ever identifies the fearsome danger that caused this unnecessary death. It is just a death, not one to be feared. I so beg to differ! Dying as a result of a sedentary and seemingly safe life is the worst thing I can imagine! Let me out! I want to run, I want to do terrifying dances with speeding automobiles!

It was upon removing myself from my husband’s life that I began to say, “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living.” I remember, in the last months before leaving my marriage, I was assigned a client in New York City. I’d never been to NYC, but had been eager to go. My husband was beside himself with worry for all that he’d “heard” about New York, all the dangers, the dreadful accounts of horrible things that one believes from only seeing the world through the screen hosted by the media and popular TV crime shows. I remember arriving in New York City on an airport shuttle late on a Saturday night, being driven through Harlem and other more troubled areas. I took everything I saw in and wondered if my husband’s fears were fair, or false. I arrived at my hotel and tried to sleep but the sirens and the shouting on Lexington Avenue below prevented it. The next morning, when I awoke, my plan had been to spend a day sightseeing before working the next several days with my client. But, I was hesitant. To leave the relative safety of my hotel room and step into the world of noise and pressing crowds of people,  a world I saw in some of my favorite TV shows and movies as wonderful, but through my husband’s eyes as wretched and fierce. I stepped outside, I walked and walked and walked. I saw not a frightening world as depicted on the news and in popular TV crime shows, but a wonderful, magical and energetic city where I felt safe and stimulated. I even was so bold as to go to a Broadway show, “Rock of Ages”, and walk back to my hotel, several blocks, alone, in the dark. What I saw was not fearful, not evil lurking at every turn, but, rather, couples, hand in hand, strolling the streets, groups of ladies, chatting and walking, from one club to another. This was not a fearsome place, this was more like an adult Disneyland. I learned to discard fear. I do exercise caution, I do exercise diligence, I do employ knowledge and common sense and I always remain acutely aware, all of this allows me to live without fear and it is so liberating!

So, no, I am not afraid to run on the roadway. I am aware, acutely aware. I pay attention to each and every car and seek to make eye contact with every driver, particularly when crossing the street. The fact that they are required, by law, to stop when a person enters the crosswalk does not mean they have actually seen me. How do I know, for certain, that, as I step into the crosswalk, that they aren’t slowing, coincidentally, because they’ve just received a titillating text message? No assumption can be made until eye contact has been established, then, and only then, has an understanding been reached and my safety assured. I crossed one intersection today and encountered a Fiat, exiting the highway. I paused at the curb and waited for eye contact and an acknowledgement from the driver, and, in this case, not because I was afraid of harm on my part, but that I might run over the car and cause it grave harm for it’s diminutive size!

I reached Yountville, the neighboring town north of Napa. I knew the sidewalks would be choked with tourists. Luckily, I found a path that led along the west edge of town, out of sight of the highway and away from the crowds. The path delivered me to the main street of Yountville a little north of where the crowds seem to congregate. I continued to run. Somewhere, soon, I’d reach the halfway point. By car it was different than on foot. No two mileage devices will ever agree, it is this imprecision that we runners are plagued with. You can have several runners with the same brand and model watch, set to start measurement at precisely the same moment, and there will be as many variations in speed and distance as there are watches. The app on my phone and my Garmin watch were already a good third of a mile in disagreement. I usually run so that the slower of the two reaches my intended goal. On one device I am exact, the other, an overachiever!

Halfway through Yountville, on a walk break, I am feeling giddy. I post to Facebook, “Still running. Eleven miles and turning for home. I forgot to mention; if you happen to find me face down on the pavement, do me a favor, please, pause my Garmin and my running app BEFORE checking for a pulse. If I am dead, stop my watch, and, if my running stats are good, post them to Facebook with my eulogy. Thanks.” I am grinning and laughing at my wit and humor as I continue on, not actually at eleven miles quite yet. On the far northern edge of town is an old cemetery, and it is precisely there that my running app reports that I have run eleven miles. So, to continue on, turning around and retracing every step home, or, perhaps, just be hyper efficient and succumb to death, conveniently, here, at the cemetery. I turn, run, and begin to retrace each and every step towards home. I am halfway there.

As I run back through Yountville, I pass one of my favorite wineries. Apparently, there is an event there today. There is music and there are lots of people standing around outside, cars are parked all along the shoulder and I can hear lots of voices and laughter. It reminds me a little of a race, crowds along the road, cheering runners on. I am hoping someone on the sidelines will hand me a glass, a generous nine ounce pour of “Table for Four”, the most delicious blend of red wine I have ever had the pleasure of allowing past my lips. During races, volunteers will line the road at appointed spots and offer runners Dixie cups of water and Gatorade, why not wine? My hopes are dashed as I dash by and never see a glass of wine extended at the end of someone’s reach, towards me, to grab, gulp and toss.

I keep running. Another couple of blocks and I run past Tom Keller’s garden, I consider stopping and grazing for a while, but, truthfully, I don’t feel like pausing my Garmin. I keep running. Another couple of blocks and I pass one of Tom’s restaurants, Bouchon. Again, I am deluded into hoping that I’ll see a folding table, a pop up sunshade and cheerful, volunteers passing out savory chunks of Bouchon bread to runners like me. Again, I am disappointed. I keep running.

I am taking in fuel with precision, every forty-five minutes. My large breakfast, I’m sure, has long since been converted to fuel and has been burned up. I have in the front pouch of my running pack, six, highly-coveted packets of Salted Caramel Gu. There is Gu, in chocolate and raspberry, blueberry and other flavors I’m not likely to try, and, then, there is Salted Caramel. I buy it by the case. Three quarters of the way through my run, halfway through my return trip home, laughing out loud as I plod along, at my own wit and humor, during a walk break, I post to Facebook, “Still running. I forgot to mention, if you happen to see me face down on the pavement and I recover, I know exactly how many Salted Caramel Gu packets I have in my pouch and if any are missing I’ll know who pinched them and I will seek recompense.”

Shortly thereafter, I reach into my pouch for what should be my last fueling of the trip. There is only one Salted Caramel Gu left. There should’ve been six, this would only be number five. I was short one. I always make sure I have at least one extra, just in case. Oh, sure, I have raspberry Shot Blocks, but I really prefer Gu, Salted Caramel Gu. How am I one short? Did I miscalculate? That seemed unlikely. Then I recalled, I’d shown Mom my Salted Caramel Gu, I speak of Gu and I know she was a bit mystified by the name. A description and explanation didn’t seem to clarify anything, so, while packing my pouch with Gu packets, I gave her one to look at. She cut the top off of it and sucked it right down like she’d been running marathons her whole life. She thought it was quite good. She loves caramel! She asked me where she could buy some. I had two visions; first, of Mom racing around the yard this afternoon, the wheels on her walker causing sparks as they skipped across the brick patio, Mom furiously pruning, weeding and watering, and, second, Mom walking, ever so slowly, with her cane, into the Napa Valley Running Company, in quest of Salted Caramel Gu. I’d meant to grab a replacement pack from my stash, in my running bin, under my bed, which, by the way, I should probably now consider relocating.

I passed the spot where I’d met the squirrel, earlier, and, there he was. Flattened. Yikes. I looked to see if he had a Garmin, I was going to stop it for him. No one wants to die with their Garmin continuing to run, leaving a legacy of really dreadful running stats for that last dash.

A block and a half from home I ran out of water, I was out of Gu, and I had run in excess of twenty two miles according to my iPhone app and exactly twenty two miles according to my lagging Garmin watch. I decided to walk the last little bit home. All I could think about was dinner. I’d run right through lunch, and other than five packets of GU, I’d ingested nothing of matter. My running app said I’d burned 2,553 calories. All I could think about was a large slab of dark, red, flesh of beast and an equally dark, rich and chewy beer.

My friend Miles ran yesterday, with SacFit, and had posted to Facebook a photo of himself, from the knees down, in a bathtub full of ice. This practice is subscribed to by many runners in my club as a method to stop the lactic acid in one’s legs so as to prevent muscle pain the following days. Or the better part of a week. I’ve managed a tepid bath, once, followed by a blistering hot shower. The thought of sitting, for a second, let alone some number of minutes, in a bath of ice sounds far worse than any amount of muscle pain. At least muscle pain and a warm core body temperature coexist. Once my core is cold it takes Herculean effort to rewarm. I commented on Miles’ Facebook post, saying, pretty much, um, never, not even if hell froze over, which, from the looks of his picture, it had. As I was out of beer, and in a wittier than usual mood, I decided to go buy beer and to post a photo in response to Miles’.  I bought two and a half cases of beer. What? It’s not like I won’t use it and it was all on sale. I’m also hoping it will help lure a particular sweet, supportive, practical, wise and rational man southward from the frozen north, even if for just a bit!

When I returned home, I climbed into the bathtub, clothed, and staged a photo; ice cold beer bottles burying my legs with only my feet sticking out. The caption read, “It is my belief that all that has to do with health, fitness and exercise is open to interpretation and adaptation for the utmost benefit of each individual athlete. The practices, methods, treatments and therapies recommended as a matter of course, too, should be modified to suit the athlete. As to ice baths following an especially long run, Miles, this application is offering a great deal of relief. I suggest giving it a try!” I am still giggling at my profound wit and the extreme lengths I will go to try to entertain my Facebook friends. Fifteen likes, six comments. So far.

I reached my goal today, and that’s about all. But, the sense of accomplishment and the confidence in the fact that I know, with a fair degree of certainty, that I could’ve run another 4.2 miles, for a total of 26.2, puts me in a great frame of mind as my first full marathon rapidly approaches. There are few things I say I’m going to do that I don’t actually do. To be able to say that, is as a result of several years of hard work, self-exploration and self-development. I am proud of my growth and my achievements. I’ve also overcome one of the few self-limiting beliefs I’ve ever had about myself. I can run. And, I run without fear. Remember, fear is paralyzing, and limiting, and deadly. Live life with open eyes, open ears, an open mind and an open heart. There is nothing to fear. Life is so good, like Salted Caramel Gu!

                        Scarlett

Pre-run "selfie"
Pre-run “selfie”
Post run "selfie"
Post run, post shower “selfie”

Scared to Death of Death and the Dying

I had to have a physical, for work, something about that whole healthcare thing. I usually have a good, thorough physical and all the “girl stuff” every year. But I haven’t, in like, a couple, maybe a few years. I’ve had a “quickie” to satisfy the requirement to participate as an “older” adult leader for a Boy Scouting backpacking adventure a year or two ago, but no “girl stuff.” So. It was time.

The blood work was all good; a high overall cholesterol but only because my “good”, or protective, cholesterol was off the charts. But I still get grief from Mom about butter, eggs, that one piece of bacon I have on Sunday and the single bowl of ice cream I eat once a week. And when I answered the “fill in the bubble” survey for work, after inputting my total cholesterol number, I’m now getting some “Heart Insight” email about every 43 minutes in my email inbox. I had my mammogram last week. I still have another lovely, fun-filled, screening to schedule, the joy of turning fifty

So I get a call from a number I don’t recognize this morning, and then a voicemail. I listen to the voicemail and it’s my doctor, he asks me to call him back regarding some results. Now, I have my doctor’s number in my contacts, so it should have identified him, but the call came from some city in Washington. It was the same number with a Washington area code. I’m guessing that it has to do with the phone system the healthcare group uses and outgoing calls are rerouted in some manner for some reason that I’m sure no one can explain. If I’d known it was him, I’d certainly have picked up the phone. When I call back three seconds later, the doctor isn’t available. I sit around most of the day staring at my phone, which, of course, never rings. I have things to do, errands to run, shopping to do, hair to cut. I’m sitting in the parking lot of the hair salon and I just know once I am in the chair and cannot answer the phone, it will ring. I called the doctor’s office again, left another message, tried to explain that I was returning the doctor’s call, that he’d requested I call. He was with a patient, still, and I was told he’d call. My hair is all cut, I am home, four hours later and well after office hours, no call. So, if I die it’s because of convoluted phone systems and faulty voicemail.

I know. I’m being dramatic. But death has been on my mind a lot lately.

On my mind because it seems I’ve been sort of surrounded by death, the dying and devastating diagnoses recently and for the past few years, yes, those same past few years that I’ve managed NOT to have a real physical. I don’t dwell on it, it is part of life, but, perhaps because of my age, the age of my parents and my peers, there does seem to be quite a bit more of it all to deal with theses days. As I’ve always said, and firmly believe, I am not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. This is very true, those are my solid beliefs. Perhaps rephrased slightly. I’m not afraid of death, of being dead, I’m afraid of not being able to live life to its fullest. I am absolutely, positively petrified, to death even, of a long, slow, agonizing death and prolonged medical treatments, procedures and prescriptions. I saw my dad do this dance for decades. I see friends and acquaintances going through the same thing. I gallantly think I’ll just deny that kind of intervention, but it is so hard to tell how you’ll actually react until you are standing at the precipice.

I have a pact, a pinky swear and an oath with my kids, when I am too old/sick/tired to live the life I want, if I am ever dependent on a million pills to make it through a day, it is time to go snow camping. I am cold weather survival certified, courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America. Because of the training I’ve endured and the proficiency I’ve demonstrated, I am qualified to take other peoples’ kids out into the cold for prolonged periods of time because they know, with a fair amount of certainty, that I will return them a) alive, b) with all of their appendages and c) with no frostbite on any of those appendages. And d) with lots of REI dividend points! One thing I learned is that hypothermia is not a bad way to go. You are cold and uncomfortable for a while, you get a bit woozy, eventually, and feel all warm and comfy, then you kind of go to sleep and die. So, we’re going snow camping at some point in time, assuming I don’t have a faulty parachute or a bad whitewater kayaking day or a cataclysmic mountain biking fall or only a foot caught in a stirrup of a saddle strapped to a really fast horse at a full gallop up a mountain trail, the rest of me bouncing along the boulders along the path. If none of that happens between now and “then”, we’re going snow camping. I’ll just sort of forget to pack my down sleeping bag and appropriate clothing for the night. I’ll leave the tent flap a little bit open and, well, I described the rest above.

I know we must all, eventually, die. Of something. But I can’t imagine the horror of hearing those words, “you have cancer”. Or, worse, “you have cancer and we can’t treat it.” I have many friends and acquaintances with cancer right now or who are “recovered” recently. I have friends who have untreatable cancer. I have always struggled a bit with how to react and what to say to those who are facing death. I remember back in college, a young man I’d gone to school with since grade school was diagnosed with an “inoperable” brain tumor. They removed what they could and sentenced him to death. All I knew was that this fine, young man, one of the nicest guys I ever knew, was going to die. I took it hard, though we weren’t all that close. I’ve never handled the death of the young well. I still cry over the teens I went to school with who died in car crashes, even those I wasn’t all that close to. A couple of weeks after hearing about the young man and his brain tumor, I ran into him, literally, at a local bar. His head was shaved and he wore a fedora style hat to disguise it. I remember freezing in my tracks, mouth likely agape, for what seemed an eternity, before I was able to greet him. I managed a hello and moved quickly on. To this day, I regret my inability to stay and talk longer, my inability to know what to say, or do. I was such a putz. Am such a putz. Thirty some years and probably as many surgeries later, he is still alive. I have not seen him since, but think of him often. I like to think I have matured enough to embrace him and speak with him at length, if ever given the chance.

My friend who is dying of cancer, brain cancer, I have not seen in probably, nearly, thirty years. She is a uniquely strong, brave and courageous woman. In the face of her terminal illness, and other unimaginable adversities in her life, she reaches out to others with cancer and provides them with information and techniques for seeking out and acquiring appropriate care and treatment to prolong life if not cure the cancer. She hopes to live longer than her doctors tell her she will so she can inspire others to find the courage to face their illness, at all. A couple of weeks ago, a group of friends all got together and had lunch with her. I didn’t know about it or I’d have gone. I was told that it was a day of enlightenment and joy, in spite of what lies ahead, imminently. It was decided that another lunch will be held later this month, and monthly thereafter, until, well, yah. Until. I was invited to attend the next one and will, indeed, go. And I will find within myself the strength to overcome my own weakness and shortcomings, to show my support and compassion, which, like tears, I have no lack of.

There is one minor obstacle, now, though. My dear friend who is hosting the lunch just lost her older sister a couple of days ago. As an only child, I always looked up to my close friends’ siblings, sort of wishing they were my own. And so, though not close, and not near for many years, this is a loss that I feel, perhaps more than I should. It was unexpected in spite of many years of struggles and related health problems. I really didn’t expect this news. And, in the midst of gathering the courage to have lunch with a dying friend, I now have to further gather courage to comfort another.

I am bad. It is my weakness. Death and the dying. I certainly lack no compassion, in fact, I have too much. I feel very deeply and I overreact. This is the basis of my fear; not knowing how to act, what to say, and likely overreacting. I once wrote about how I cried more, once, at a funeral than the widow herself. A few weeks ago, the neighbor across the street was at the brink of death, a long, lost battle with cancer. She was in hospice at home, just waiting. I was never particularly close to her, they moved in about the time I moved away. But she has been dear to my parents, even while ill, for which I am forever grateful. My mom wanted to take her a cantaloupe she bought on sale, because the sick woman loved cantaloupe. Mom wanted me to go with her. I so did not want to go. Like a spoiled little child, I didn’t want to go. But, I did, without expressing my resistance, like a good girl. We knocked on the door and waited on the porch step. Just when it seemed no one would answer, to my relief, and we could just ditch the melon on the step and run, the door opened. We were invited in. We chatted for a full twenty minutes, in the living room, on the couch, with the husband, the daughter, the grandson. Twenty minutes passed before I noticed the hospital bed not twenty feet from us, in the dining room, with a skeletal figure sleeping.  I don’t hide my expressions well, so I really pray no one saw my face when I made that realization. At one point, the frail patient awoke, recognized us from across the room, smiled, exclaimed, “Oh!”, waved and tried to sit up to speak. Before this feat was accomplished she fell back asleep. There was joy in her face when she saw us and suddenly, I was grateful I’d come and I cursed the petulant child inside me that resisted. She died shortly after we left that afternoon. I don’t think she had any of the cantaloupe. I cried at her funeral, too. I hardly knew her.

My weakness, then are my feelings of overwhelming sorrow and grief, sometimes even before they are appropriate. At the first diagnosis of a friend or acquaintance, I am grieving, and it is hard for me to hide it, to be strong for their benefit. I am afraid for my own weakness, that I will be too emotional. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, and as I often quote, we must do something everyday that scares us. My challenge, then, is to overcome my fear of my weakness, my display of emotion, or to just be who I am, over emotional and still, just be there to support and comfort.

I did recently spend some time with a friend who is struggling with an inoperable tumor that resulted from metastatic cancer that originated elsewhere. It has been one tough diagnosis after another. At this point, thankfully, it has stopped, and a lifelong regime of a “new” pill-form chemotherapy promises, at the very least, hope for more time and at most, like the rest of us, to live until she dies. And for the time we spent together that weekend, with other friends, while there was discussion of the facts and the reality, there was only optimism and peace and I maintained calm, cool and collected over my own emotions. There is hope. For both of us, that she will lead a long, happy, productive and cancer free life, and that I can overcome my fear of overreaction to the facts of life, and that, for all of us, is that it will end. Some of us just sooner than others.

And, really, what is the tragedy? If religious, we believe, after judgment, that we will spend eternity in some utopian Club Med in the sky. And for those not so convinced, then we just aren’t anymore. Neither sounds like such a bad deal. I think the mourning, on my part, is more for those left behind to deal with the loss and the emptiness. I know for the funeral where I cried more than the widow it was because of the young son left without his terrific dad, a father who’d been sick and suffering with leukemia since before the child’s birth. A father, though so ill, still coached Little League. That’s the shit that makes me cry.

At every age we are likely to know someone dying or someone who has endured a loss, as we age, more and more so. If we aren’t comfortable with it, we’d better get comfortable with it. Death and dying is a fact of life. It is inevitable. This is my personal call to action. If we fear our reactions may be inappropriate or awkward, think through what we’ll say first, have a repertoire of appropriate responses to choose from. Those who are ill or who are dying, and those left behind after the loss of a loved one, will appreciate and remember our company, our visit, our intentions more than the exact words we say or whether we shed one tear too many. We can’t avoid them out of fear or discomfort because we will regret, absolutely, having not spent that time with them. And, if ever we are dying or have suffered a loss, maybe only then, will we more clearly understand the value of those visits, those words, those intentions, however awkwardly worded or delivered. Lest not wait for that clearer understanding

If death is the last enemy and we aren’t afraid of death itself, and we know that, even if we suffer inappropriate tears at loss, our companionship and support is still greatly appreciated, then all that is really left is our petty fear. As F.D.R. so memorably proclaimed, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Eleanor, on the other hand, suggests we just look fear in the face and get over it.

Scarlett’s Letter July 21, 2013

I’m not sure at what point in my life I decided I “needed” to go skydiving. I really had no inclination to do so, ever, until the past few years. It may have begun as a joke with my kids. We decided when my daughter turned eighteen the three of us, my daughter, my son and myself, would go get tattoos, go skydiving and go to a hookah bar, together, all on the same day. For several reasons, it didn’t happen.  Now my daughter lives in New York and my son is headed to Hawaii, so I am left here, with nothing better to do than to go skydiving by myself.

So I did.

I did it in celebration of my fiftieth birthday, actually. I figured, having made it through a half a century, I needed to do something drastic to kick off the next half century. Sort of like a rebirth, or an affirmation of life.

I did a tandem jump, meaning I was firmly strapped to a man who knew what he was doing. How brave is it, really, to strap yourself to someone, pay big bucks to have them fall out of an airplane and guide you safely to earth? Based on the feedback on Facebook, I’d say some consider it brave, some consider it insane, and some do it nearly every day and welcome you to the club. Brave or not, it provides you with the experience of losing control and then regaining control. It gives you enough of an experience to consider being able to do this on your own.

Once someone else does that for you one time, and you are “imprinted” with that experience of loss of control and regaining control, you can more readily take the next step of doing it on your own, perhaps. I am fairly certain I would not have been able to exit the plane on my own. I don’t think they even allow that now. I’m pretty sure you have to do a tandem jump, then take a bazillion classes, and then solo jump. I don’t know, I haven’t’ really checked into it. Yet. The tandem jump worked out very well. He jumped out of the plane and I really, at that point, had very little to say about the whole thing. Having experienced free fall and the feeling of the chute opening, and drifting to the ground while taking in the scenery across three counties, I am quite comfortable with the whole ordeal, I think I could easily do it on my own once I took the required lessons.

Many years ago, before I was ever in the picture, the man I married attempted to sky dive. His twin brother was an avid skydiver, so my husband decided he needed to try. He paid to be taken up in the plane and when it came time to jump, he could not let go of the plane. His fingers were wrapped around some sturdy piece of airplane and could not even be pried loose. He landed with the plane and never made another attempt. And that sums up much about him; unable to let go of the plane. Years later, he took private pilot lessons, at considerable expense. He finally got to the point where he had enough experience to solo, and he kept opting for “just one more lesson”. He never did his solo flight, never got his private pilot license and his training is all expired by this point, I’m sure. More recently, and the catalyst for the death of the already unhappy marriage, was his decision to “day trade”, in his own fashion. After observing the “behavior” of stocks over a very long period of time, he devised a plan where he could make very short trades, purchase and sell again within minutes. I did an independent study of his plan, and a financial model of the potential results. It looked good, it looked like there was considerable potential, so I consented to let him try. He hasn’t worked since. Nor has he made any money since. Every morning, for the next couple of years, he sat in his chair at the kitchen table, disheveled, unshowered, over-caffeinated, and wide-eyed with fear, and he watched the potential trades come and go. He couldn’t let go of the plane. He just couldn’t make the trades, and when he did, he second-guessed himself and bought and sold too early or too late and either made very little, broke even or lost. But he certainly did not replace his income and the empire we’d spent a lifetime building, fell. All because he couldn’t let go of the plane.

Skydiving is interesting. That may seem like an understatement. It is and understatement, and it isn’t. Skydiving is amazing, the adrenaline rush is awesome! But skydiving is also interesting in the way things become interesting when you overanalyze them, like I do pretty much everything.

Upon exiting the plane, free falling is what much of life feels like; you’re out of control and just plummeting. When the ripcord is pulled and the chute deploys, you regain control, you grab the handles and steer yourself to safety. In skydiving, as in life, we are in command, even if we feel like we are in free fall and completely out of control. All we ever have to do is pull that ripcord, grab the handles and steer ourselves safely back to the ground. When do we feel like we’re in free fall? After high school graduation, before beginning college. After college graduation before landing that first job. Any time we leave a comfortable job in quest for new, better, more enriching experiences. Selling a house to buy another. Moving from one city to another. Ending a long-term relationship. Retiring from a long, rewarding career. Receiving a dreaded diagnosis. We are almost always in free fall in some realm of life, or are approaching it. Yet, we usually land on our feet and continue to live.

This applies to just about anything. Change is scary, we are fearful of much in life, and we allow those fears limit us, limit our potential, limit our possibility for growth, fulfillment, happiness and possibly even being able to contribute in a very meaningful way to the world in which we live. Do you think, possibly, there is a scientist out there, somewhere, who has the potential to develop a cure for cancer or AIDS, but is, perhaps, limited by their fear? Perhaps there exists somewhere a gifted leader and politician, someone who is honest and has integrity and could help our divided nation overcome its partisan differences, but because they are limited by their fear, they don’t pursue their gift. What gifts do you have that your fear of change, uncertainty or failure prevent you from sharing?

Whether you decide to skydive in order to fully understand the analogy of free-fall and then regaining control, or whether you just rely on my description of it, do consider finding a way to overcome fears that limit you. My favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt has helped me many times over; “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Just let go of the plane.

Tumbling out of an airplane 13,000 feet in the air, strapped to a man who, hopefully, knows what he's doing.
Tumbling out of an airplane 13,000 feet in the air, strapped to a man who, hopefully, knows what he’s doing.
Free-fall in skydiving feels a lot like those things in life that scare us, but the view is better.
Free-fall in skydiving feels a lot like those things in life that scare us, but the view is better.
I am obviously having a terrible time.
I am obviously having a terrible time.
The ripcord is pulled, the chute deploys and control is regained. We drift back to the ground safely and enjoy the view across three counties along the way.
The ripcord is pulled, the chute deploys and control is regained. We drift back to the ground safely and enjoy the view across three counties along the way.
We are always in much better control than we think.
We are always in much better control than we think.
The planned landing method, had I known, I wouldn't have worn my MissMe jeans with all the rhinestones on my ass. I don't think I left any glitter behind from my glittery behind!
The planned landing method, had I known, I wouldn’t have worn my MissMe jeans with all the rhinestones on my ass. I don’t think I left any glitter behind from my glittery behind!
No matter how scary life can be, after the free fall, and we pull the ripcord and regain control, we land safely on the ground and are able to walk away. Then we really want to do it again!
No matter how scary life can be, after the free fall, and we pull the ripcord and regain control, we land safely on the ground and are able to walk away. Then we really want to do it again!

To Change or Not to Change

Life is never exactly the way we imagined it, sometimes things are better than we ever imagined, sometimes, they aren’t. We’ve chatted a bit about fear and we’ve chatted a bit about change. To recap, ditch fear, embrace change, it’s as simple as that. Okay, simply said, harder to employ.

The real question comes up when deciding if something in life that isn’t quite all we imagined should be changed, or just left alone, accepted “as is”, and a compromise made. There are many things in life, especially those things we yearn for, try really hard for, think about, work towards, envision, focus on, concentrate on and visualize, and when it comes to be, isn’t nearly what we envisioned or visualized. I think sometimes our imaginations are so good, the imagined outcome ends up being far superior to the real deal. So, when this happens, do we seek to change it? Or accept it for what it is? And if we do, is this a compromise? If we don’t accept it for what it is, are we ungrateful?

This dilemma can apply to very big things in life, and to very small matters. The point is, change is not always easy and we often accept less, compromise, because it is easier than shifting gears and initiating very necessary change. We are afraid of the amount of effort to change versus the actual reward.  Again, ditch fear, embrace change. Simpler to say, harder to employ.

A seemingly small change I’ve made recently, at least small to most, but huge for me; I have always hade love/hate relationships with purses. I buy a purse and think we’ll be together forever. A week later, I hate it and in “the pile” it goes. “The pile” has recently been pared down to two boxes, with the last move. Two boxes of beautiful purses I can make myself carry for a day or two because of the color, the pattern, the size or some other temporarily tolerable benefit. After a couple of days, back in the box it goes and out comes the ONE and only purse I have ever truly loved. If you’ve paid any attention to my pictures or videos, you’ve probably seen the ONE purse I have truly loved; my Kandee Johnson Imoshion bag in leopard print vegan material.

My leopard bag was designed by Kandee Johnson, a YouTube entertainer/mom/professional make up artist. She has incredible style, a ton of practicality, great fashion sense and knows how, exactly, a real purse should be designed. Imoshion approached Kandee and asked her to design the bag of her dreams and the result, my beloved purse. There was some minor hysteria over a contest to win one, then more hysteria over ordering from the first limited batch, then more hysteria over ordering one from the extended batch after the first batch sold out immediately. Through some hysterics of my own, and by employing every family member with internet acumen to attempt to obtain one online (the only way they could be purchased), I finally persevered, and only because I was willing to set my alarm at some unholy hour and attempt placing an online order when the web traffic was a bit more manageable. I’ve had my Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard bag for just over a year. I have never, ever, ever, ever, completely worn a purse out. Ever. Until now. It is, literally, in tatters.

To clarify, this is a very high quality bag, but, I am brutally punishing to any bag I carry, and one I carry day and night, on my business trips, crammed under airplane seat after airplane seat, set upon the floor in every imaginable condition, carried untold miles holding a MacBook, an iPad, a Kindle, two iPhones, make up, a leather jacket, a wallet, an umbrella, a cardigan, a water bottle, snackage, electrical cords for various devices and even, occasionally, a bottle of wine, and weighing in at probably well over thirty pounds, is bound to die an earlier death than a bag that sees only occasional, light duty use.

As I prepared for my month-long excursion from California to New York, to New Jersey and on to Alaska, I eyed my sorry leopard bag. When I left home just over a week ago, it had a tear in the bottom, the pink satin lining was peeking through a half-inch round hole. The lovely turquoise tassel is long gone, the cross-body shoulder strap still looks brand new, but comes unclipped at the most inopportune time, usually when burdened with the most weight imaginable. The zipper at the top is busted so the bag is always gaping wide open to display its contents. The leopard printed “vegan” material actually wore thin in several areas and looks blurred. The metal studs were vanishing at an alarming rate. I eyed my poor bag and wondered if a) it would survive one more very long, very hard trip and b) would I look like a homeless person carrying it, especially to and from the clients’ office? I ploughed through all my other bags and decided a trip without this purse would be intolerable.

I have been routinely checking in with Imoshion to see if they’d be stocking any more Kandee Johnson leopard print vegan material bags and I would have willingly bought one, two, three. In every color. Furthermore, I get so many compliments on this bag, I could easily have sold another 1,000 bags had they been available for sale! But, the website perpetually said “Out of Stock”. I finally emailed them from the website contact form and told them about my relationship with my bag. They kindly replied, suggesting I follow them on Facebook for upcoming news. I have followed Imoshion on Facebook since the prototype giveaway over a year ago. So, I set them as a favorite, now every little photo and blurb Imoshion makes about every OTHER product they carry, creates a notification on my iPhone, which, frankly, is driving me crazy. Crazier, even, because none of the notifications have anything at all to do with the availability of a replacement for my beloved bag.

This weekend, in New York, the half-inch hole in the bottom of the exterior of the purse finally wore through to the interior, making a “clear through” hole out of which my treasures could tumble. The leopard printed “vegan” finish was peeling off like a bad sunburn. The bag was, really, almost nauseating to look at. I checked the Imoshion website one more time. “Out of Stock”. I caved. I went to Fossil and plopped down three times what my Kandee Johnson bag cost for a new bag. And it was on sale. At first, I was thrilled, more because the color was amazing, and it was genuine leather (sorry vegans). Mostly, though, because the nice salesman at the Fifth Avenue Fossil store found a way to embellish my “tote” with the cute gold key that “only came on the purse”. So, my bag is unique compared to others “exactly” like it. He had nice eyes, too, for the record.

I’ve been carrying my new bag for just over twenty-four hours and it is a major adjustment. I have a “system” when I move into a new bag so it will be easy to find things, I will use the same pockets for the same things. Always. Once I’ve “set up” a new bag for the first time, everything has a place and everything is always in its place. I am not one of those women who can’t find things in my purse. Well, about 99% of the time, anyway. This is a huge adjustment for me. I can switch domiciles more easily than I moved out of my beloved leopard bag into my new Fossil bag. After the first trip down a NYC street with it, realizing I could no longer carry a MacBook, an iPad, a Kindle, two iPhones, my leather jacket, an umbrella, a cardigan, a full water bottle and all the things a purse is supposed to carry, I remarked to my daughter that I was going to hate the bag. Soon. Of course she laid “dibs” on it.

Today was the first day I carried it to work, and, well, it worked. I did get the cardigan in. And a small water bottle. When I walked into my hotel in New Jersey, though, and both the ladies at the front desk exclaimed excitedly over my bag, I fell a little in love with it. It garnered nearly as much attention as my leopard bag, which, by the way, I can’t bear to throw away. It is in a carrier bag, carefully tucked in my one of my overstuffed suitcases. I will take it home, I suppose, and decide upon an appropriate ceremony and internment for it. Sigh.

I know this seems like much ado over a handbag, but I suppose many of you just don’t understand the depth of the relationship I hold with such an item. We travel hundreds of thousands of miles together; it is, truly, the one constant in my life. Always there. My friends, my family, my possessions, are with me only here or there. My bag is with me at all times, never more than a few feet away. Change was very hard, and I am still a little uncertain, but, I’m afraid there is no going back, at this point.

So, what in your life, big or small, has deteriorated to the point where you really should consider making a change? There are other things in my life that are warranting similar consideration. Truthfully, there should always be a LIST of things in our lives that are up for consideration. A list of things far more serious than a handbag; career, living situation, relationships of all types, fitness, health, diet, spirituality, attitude, social life. To name a few. If any of these facets, or any other facets of your life are less than spectacular, aren’t measuring up, have finally worn through and become tattered, it is not only okay to consider change, it is acceptable to seek change. In fact, necessary is the more appropriate word.

We should not be settling for less when we know in our hearts, in our souls, and in the deepest corners of our minds, that we deserve more. Sure, the superficial voice may tell us we don’t, but our true voice knows better and should speak up. We deserve more. An unfulfilling career, a relationship that is one-sided or languishing, whether a union, a love affair, a friendship or a family tie, our broken health, diet or fitness habits, or whatever else in life that is sub-par, should be rectified, reevaluated, rejuvenated or sent off to the recycling pile and replaced. And, yes, some of these things are easier to change than others, but they should be changed and you should be initiating that change. You need to finally decide it’s time to get a new handbag, especially if the old one can’t be made whole. And, yes. It is scary!

You should have seen me yesterday, with the contents of my leopard bag spilled all over the hotel bed. The carcass of the leopard bag by my side, the hot pink satin lining visible from every open pouch and pocket, looking a lot like blood from many incisions, like after an autopsy. I sat there amidst piles of lip color and coin purses, wallets and device cords, hair ties, batteries, SD cards, various small personal electronic gadgets, an umbrella and a half dozen reusable Whole Foods shopping bags (the really good kind with the amazing prints that cost $4 and support a worthy cause and have a single cross-body strap). I was a little distraught; how was I going to fit this into my new large, more expensive, but somehow smaller and less capable bag? I would have to adapt. I have already begun. I actually felt quite a bit better carrying my new bag today; I felt that my image is improved for finally replacing my tattered bag with a new one. I had a little spring in my step today that wasn’t there yesterday, like I was saying, without words “look at me and my new bag!” It is going to work out and the change will have been the right decision.

What other scary changes need to be considered, and made, in order to move forward in better condition, in a better direction, with more confidence, with improved self-worth and self-esteem? What other scary decisions will leave you shaky and uncertain at first, but happy and whole, after a brief period of adjustment? You will never know the good that awaits unless you are willing to evaluate changes to that which you are carrying around, full of holes, worn bare and thin, weighting your down with excess and compromising your (self) image. What are you hanging on to that could be replaced with something more serviceable, more rewarding, more fulfilling? Only you know and only you can identify and initiate what needs to change, and I guarantee, no one is immune from having something in their life ripe for change. We just fail to see it, or fear the outcome. It is time to ditch fear and embrace change. You deserve it.

My beloved Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag all shiny and new.
My beloved Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag all shiny and new.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag out shopping with me.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag out shopping with me.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag. Tattered.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag. Tattered.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag; broken zipper, holes, studs missing, shoulder strap broken. Me sad.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag; broken zipper, holes, studs missing, shoulder strap broken. Me sad.
A change has been made. The new bag.
A change has been made. The new bag.