Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around, or Sometimes Just Goes

Karma: the cosmic principle according to which each person is rewarded or punished according to their actions and thoughts.

I’m not sure how much faith I have in karma, but I do believe that you don’t have to completely understand something to have it work for you. Take, for example, cell phones, electricity, airplanes, kidneys…

So, when I stop to help a stranger, do I expect repayment? No. Never. But, I do expect good things to happen, because, in my life, generally, good things happen. I’m not sure why, I just know that good things usually come my way. So, I try to do good things in return and it’s like a spiral moving upward, even when I can’t see a beneficial outcome or a repayment of any kind.

For example, years ago my children were on a neighborhood swim team (go RSM Dolphins). My neighbor mentioned that she’d have to pull her kids off the team because of work conflicts. I offered to drive her kids to and from swim team, resolving her conflict. For me, this was NOT a big deal. Standing on my balcony, I can see the neighborhood pool (that’s how close it is). Driving her kids was a matter of throwing their wet bodies and towels in the car and depositing them on their front porch one minute later. A few weeks later she offered to take my children to a summer arts program where she taught. This was a big deal. She took my children to and from the program everyday for two months. (It was thirty minutes away and conflicted with my twin’s nap time). I never would have been able to have had my children participate in that program without her help. And I’m pretty sure she never would have offered to drive my children if I hadn’t first offered to drive hers.

Another example, a woman I worked with in our church went through a painful divorce. She’d been married for more than thirty years. We became friends. I tried to help her as much as I could. She moved to Lees Summit, Missouri to live with her daughter. About two years later, my sister went through a painful divorce. She had also been married for more than thirty years, and she was moving to Lees Summit, Missouri to live with her daughter. Maybe the move was a coincidence, but I think that because I’d been a good friend to Martha, Martha went out of her way to be a good friend to my sister. She welcomed her at the airport. They went to movies together. Eventually, they became roommates.

One last example, when I was working on my first novel, I pretty much wrote my character up a tree and I couldn’t figure out how to get her out. For two whole days I fretted how I could resolve her conflict. Then I was asked to drive a woman to the Bishop’s Storehouse (the Mormon equivalent of a food bank). This takes about three hours and would eat up (no pun intended) my writing time, but I agreed because, hey, there wasn’t any writing going on, my character was up a tree. What happened may not surprise anyone, but it surprised me. The ladder up the tree didn’t come on the way to the storehouse, or while I was filling the order, or while I was driving back to her apartment, or while I huffed the bags of groceries up the flights of stairs, but the resolution did come and it was brilliant. And I couldn’t wait to get back to my story. Since then, similar scenarios have happened to me repeatedly. I now take a notebook with me to church and to the temple, because that’s where I have some of my very best ideas.

That’s why I believe the best advice for living and writing is this- live life as fully as you can. Do good, be good, think good thoughts and good things will happen.

And that’s why on days like today when something good seemed pretty much inevitable, a sure thing, like a cake in the oven or a check in the bank and then the sure, good thing doesn’t happen, the cake falls, the check bounces, and my daughter stops talking of moving to Laguna and starts talking of moving to Kentucky… I have to remember, what goes around comes around. Do good, be good, think good thoughts.

Good things can happen.
Maybe Kentucky will be a nice place to visit. I think they have horses there.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Running at Dawn

Last Friday marked the end of the semester, making today, Monday, my first chance to sleep in. I choose to run instead. I tell my friends that I won’t be able to walk with them because I’m going to get up and run at 5:30 am. (No one offers to join me). I go to bed with my running clothes and shoes set out for my early morning.

It’s near dawn and I’m jogging up the hill that passes the Oriental church. The star on the chapel is lit, the gate is open, and hundreds of dark haired, tiny people watch me pass. Why are they worshipping so early in the morning? Why are they staring at me?

I realize I’m naked.

I duck into the bushes, disturbing birds who call out, drawing more unwanted attention. There’s dirt between my toes. Branches and bushes scratch me. I decide that rather than taking the sidewalk, I’ll take a short-cut through my neighbor’s house. I hoist over their fence and crawl in their window.

At this point, my intellect weighs in on the unlikely situation. I must be asleep. Running naked? Crawling through windows? I touch my chest and feel my silky pajamas, but when I look down I see skin. Lots of skin.

My neighbors house is messy but quiet. I trip over things on my way to the front door. Soon, I’m on the sidewalk on Sembrado Street. I can see my house. I’m running fast, but time slows. I’ll never make it. I realize I will be running in slow motion when the neighbors get in their cars for work, when the children, carrying backpacks, will head for kindergarten, and when the teenagers, carrying cell phones with cameras, will leave for high school. They will take photos and videos.

I imagine my naked self on You-tube and Facebook, running, but never arriving.

I wake, sweating. It’s close to seven. I’m wearing silky pajamas. Down the hall, my daughter is showering. Outside my door, my dog is scratching. My husband is brushing his teeth.

All around me, life carries on in its normalcy and I realize that self-publishing is like running naked in a parallel universe. My novel-- it’s not real, it’s fiction--but it’s still a part of me. A part that I’m going to share with the world.

And there I’ll be, exposed, warts, hairy moles, saggy skin and all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From Jared to his Sisters

Today I’m posting a bit of the letter my 19 year old son wrote to his sisters for their 16th birthday. I’m sharing it because I think it’s darling and it reminds me of all the love in my life. Love doesn’t have a price and can’t be compensated for in any monetary way. Sometimes I forget that. More on that thought after Jared’s letter.

Fine. I guess you can go on ‘a’ date. One. I guess that’s okay, but first your date has to send in an application to me and then in my due time I’ll either approve or disapprove his request.
Requirements for application are as follows:
1 full paged paper explaining:
Why he wants to date you
Where you’re going
Who he is (cross that out, that doesn’t matter)
Who else is coming
Length of date
5 pictures of him
1 picture of the two of you together and if you look unhappy, he automatically fails.

Isn’t he awesome? I miss him. I’m sure my girls miss him, too, but they’re probably a little relieved that they don’t have him breathing down any guy’s neck. Some poor guy wouldn’t want the pressure of trying to impress not only my daughter, but also her hostile brother.

So, back to being impressive. Or not. Last night I went to my daughter’s choir banquet and sat next to a lovely woman and we shared our summer plans. Me: I’m taking my family to my dad’s 90th birthday party and if I don’t get motivated and find a place to stay, we’ll be camping on my dad’s lawn. And since he lives in Washington state, there’s a good chance of rain. Lovely woman: I’m going to 7 countries. (I’m not exaggerating.)

This reminds me of the time I went shopping with a friend. We drove for thirty minutes to go to store that carries long shorts (some people, like me, just look better with covered legs). My friend bought 5 pairs of shorts. I didn’t buy any for reasons that I don’t wish to share. I knew it was a wise decision, because after a few weeks I was back to my normal size and 5 pairs of baggy shorts are 5 pairs too many. Still, it made me cranky at the time.

Another shopping trip. A friend and I went to our favorite store’s 70% off sale. I wanted a belt that I’d seen earlier. I found the coveted belt and sure enough, it was 70% off. I should have been jubilant, victorious even, but no. My friend bought 7pairs of shoes. In my heart, I knew I didn’t need 7 pairs of shoes. I needed a belt, and yet as we walked through the mall carrying our bags, I envied her shoes.

At my dad’s birthday party, we’ll celebrate a life well lived. A life full of love. He hasn’t ever been shopping in Istanbul and he’s never surfed in Nicaragua. I’m pretty sure he isn’t interested in seven pairs of designer shoes or shorts of any length. But, he’d approve of Jared’s letter to his sisters.

Because brothers and sisters, parents and children, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews…This is the sort of thing that you just can’t have too much of and at the end of the day, at the end of a long life, they’re the only things that matter.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pats and Stars

There are workmen in my house. We communicate through nods and smiles. They’ve put plastic almost everywhere and taped up all my stuff, which simply means that I won’t be practicing the piano this week. Which means I might be embarrassed, again, when I try to accompany the choir on Sunday.

I’m held hostage in my room. My dog is trapped in the backyard. When the dog does come in the house, her toenails puncture the brown paper covering the carpet. She runs, scampers really, on the paper and she sounds like something from a Stephen King movie I saw back in the 80s or 90s – a whats-it that ate time. The Langoliers, I believe. I’m not sure why I’m writing this. I’m sure no one’s particularly interested in the comparison of my dog’s toenails to a fictional creation of Stephan King.

Tonight I’ll be reading a section of my novel to my writing group. I know I’m lucky to be with them. I find it remarkable I’m the president since I often feel that I’m the fat bottomed child at the bottom of the talent totem pole. So, tonight I’ll read. They’ll critique. They’re almost always kind and yet, there are times when I wish that Longoliers would come and eat me and my poor writing up. Times when I wish that all I had to listen to is the sound of my dog’s toenails puncturing paper. I handle critiquing that well…

And that’s the rub with my self-publishing plan. A few years ago, being published could be equated with a pat on the back or a star on the forehead. Self publish and the pats and stars go away. If someone with clout, real or paid for, thinks my stuff is good enough to make it out from under the bed, then it must be, because, look there I am, on a shelf at Borders and Barnes and Noble. I must be good. Or, since I’m not on a big B shelf, I’m just a big bottomed girl anchoring the other talents on the totem pole.

But (and that’s with one t) times and the industry have changed. Ships are going down. The big B’s are closing their stores. People are throwing around F words (like fraudulent contracts). And opinions are shaped around how many people download your book. (But, wait, couldn’t someone with a ton of money buy oodles of their own books to steer themselves right up the Amazon lists? Have people been doing this? Now we’ll never who’s good and who’s a big fat bottom totem-poler.)

A romance writer who has more than a 140 million books in print, supposedly once received a letter from a woman who said, “I don’t like any of your books. I’ve read them all and I didn’t like any of them.”

I’m going to self publish without a single expectation of a pat or a star and if someone hates all of my books but reads them all anyway, then I won’t ask for anything more. When I accompany the choir and they sing one note and I play another, my skill and execution are fairly, glaringly obvious. Maybe it’s the same for writing, but if it is, I’m not hearing it.