2019: Week 8 assessment

55 days into 2019 and I’m already playing fast and loose with the goals I set for myself in January. The first to bite the dust – running. Damn, I hate running. No matter how I frame it or what bullshit lie I try to feed myself, I can’t get past the fact that running just plain sucks. On a positive, my overall fitness is improving. I had my first match of the season last weekend. A three set win. So in a sense, I feel vindicated in my failure. My coach will likely take umbrage with that statement and threaten to make me run laps in retaliation.

I’ve also had a hard time balancing work, tennis, domestic obligations and writing. A strange dichotomy when you consider the fact that I have fewer commitments this year than last. I suppose it’s more a matter of priorities. A common theme in my life. Writing always gets shuffled to the bottom of the to-do pile. For the sake of my writing, it may be necessary to delegate all of the cooking and cleaning to the other able bodies living in my house. It will be a sacrifice, but one I’m willing to make. For my writing.

And if we are tallying up all things I have failed at thus far, I should be forthcoming and admit that I still haven’t pulled the trigger and joined that writing group yet, either. I’ve thought about it. I really have. Even had a couple conversations about it. Fear is at play here. Nothing more; nothing less. I’m not ready to share with strangers. I’ll get there.

So, we know what I haven’t accomplished in the first two months of 2019. Let’s talk about something I have – contact lenses.

Aging is cruel. I used to have better than 20/20 vision. Then I hit my forties and it all went to shit. Over the last few years, I’ve gone from just needing glasses to drive at night, to needing them to drive in general, to needing them to read small print, to needing them read any print at all. I’ve even had to start wearing them to play tennis.

And that, my friends, is where I drew a red line the sand. I had a long heart to heart with my eye doctor and it was decided that contacts were just the thing to solve all my problems. Monovision for everyday and recreational distance only for tennis. Of course, that’s the easy part. Learning to put those little fuckers in and take them out is a whole other ballgame.

On the day of the exam, my doctor’s nurse – (are they called nurses at the optometrist’s office??) – helped me find the right lenses then “trained” me in putting them in and taking them out on my own. I use that word loosely because it was nothing more than a meeting of the most basic criteria. Get one out and put it back in without going blind. Two minutes from beginning to end, while she stood over my shoulder.

I left their office in the monovisions – one for distance/one for reading. A little weird but nothing dramatic. I headed home feeling confident in my life choices.

Such confidence was grossly misguided.

It was a Thursday. Thursdays are a tennis day for me – a lesson followed by team drills. Playing tennis in monovision lenses is not recommended. Especially for those like me who lack grace and natural coordination. I got halfway home before it dawned on me that I would have to make the switch before I hit the court. Okay. No big deal. I’ve just been trained. Right?

Wrong.

It took twenty minutes of digging around in my left eye (I only need to change the left) with no success before I got frustrated and cut off all my beautiful salon pampered fingernails. By this time, my eye looked liked I had taken 40 grit sandpaper to it. It took me another ten minutes to finally get the damn thing out. I had started to believe that I would never get it out, and that I had made the worse mistake of my life because I was obviously not smart enough to wear contacts. After a dozen or so failed attempts and string of my favorite four letter words, I was finally able to get a contact back in my eye.

Needless to say I was late for tennis. When I finally stumbled my way onto the court, I was a right hot mess and looked like I was just coming off a four day bender. If it hadn’t been so wonderful to play unburdened by glasses, I may have returned them and filed the whole experience under “never fucking again.”

It’s been a little over a week. I can finally get them in and out with little fuss. I don’t look like I’ve been up for three days straight drinking vodka right out of the bottle anymore. That’s a step forward. I will even go out on a limb and say that I like them. They are liberating in many ways, even with the added routine.

So what have we learned 55 days into 2019?

  • Running still sucks
  • I need to hire a cook and a maid
  • Contact lenses – worth the price of admission

Lessons learned: a reminder

I am a pessimist by nature. Left to my own devises, I will wallow away in a seething swamp of negativity. Of all my personality flaws – and there are many – this is the one that plagues me most. I like to think that it goes hand in hand with my introversion and tendency to turn inward. Of course, that could just be a total bullshit lie that I tell myself in order to roll out of bed every morning. I choose not to peer too deep into the abyss, just in case.

We all have an internal monologue. Well, if we are to be honest, it’s more akin to conversation than soliloquy. At least for me. My head is filled with warring voices that do their best to dictate my narrative. I refer to them as my rebellious-self, my realistic-self, my narcissistic-self, my prideful-self, my fearful-self, my obsessive-self, my naive-self, my are-you-kidding-me-with-this-shit-right-now-self. They’re like squabbling siblings – always at odds and constantly vying for my attention. It takes a great deal of effort to find an enduring balance and avoid being swallowed whole by all their noise. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I think I’ve won the battle only to find out I couldn’t be more wrong.

I wrote in a previous post about my struggle to let go and move on from my booster board position. It took a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer a relevant party. Again, I am well aware of how that sounds and I make no apology for it. For my own sanity, and in an effort to hinder my proclivity for obsession over things which I have no control, I distanced myself from the entire program. I choose the “ignorance is bliss” route and proceeded to stick my head in the sand.

Seems like a solid plan, right? Totally rational. Completely reasonable. The only problem – I failed to take into consideration my evolving resentment. The end of my tenure was fraught with conflict. I felt marginalized and discounted. It’s never easy to sit on the sidelines and watch everything you worked so hard to achieve burn to the ground on the whim of others. I was pretty pissed off about it.

The negative voice in my head is like that bully on the playground – big-mouthed and obnoxious. A real dick. I try not to feed into his rhetoric, but in moments of weakness it’s easy to fall prey. And that’s exactly what happened here. I gave rise to my anger and resentment, and in doing so, allowed that negativity to define my experience.

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line at a local burrito shop when a a little voice said, “Hi, Mrs. Isaacs.” I looked up and on the other side of the counter was the sweet face of one my band kids. I was surprised to see her; thrilled to see her. We chatted for a few minutes, catching up a bit before she took my order: burrito bowl, brown rice, extra veggies, no beans with steak. I watched her meticulously go through the motions. When we got to the steak, she portion out the allotted amount, paused, then looked up at me with a shy smile. She said, “because I love you, Mrs. Isaacs,” and scooped out a little bit extra.

A simple gesture, but one that afforded me a flash of profound clarity. It brought tears to my eyes and a rush of warmth to my heart. In that moment, I realized that my negativity was a product of a damaged ego and wounded pride; and, by no means, representative of my true feelings. I gave four years of my life to the band program and I have a lot to show for it – great friends, beautiful memories, a new appreciation for “team building” and drinking establishments that stay open late.

But most of all, I have a full heart. I was blessed with the privilege of serving a fantastic group of kids for four years. The impact they have had on my life is beyond measure and something that I will always treasure. In my need to nurse my wounded pride, I forgot why I said yes in the first place; and why I kept saying yes – year after year.

I have been reminded.

2019: Goals

I have always disliked the notion of the New Year’s resolution. I understand the concept and the intent, but feel it’s a failed sentiment. For me, it is a matter of scale. By design, New Year’s resolutions tend to be broad and undefined with no clear path to fulfillment. While I do consider myself a big picture thinker in many ways, to succeed at anything, I find I must break a challenge down into digestible bits. Then move through the elements step by step, in an orderly fashion from A to Z. It’s a very linear method and it’s how I approach most aspects of my life – personal and work alike. As such, this way of thinking is generally not conducive to seeing broad based resolutions to fruition. I can’t just say “I’m going to lose weight in 2019” then boom, lose weight in 2019. I have to plan it out, do a little research, set small achievable goals for myself – A leads to B leads to C leads to D…and so on.

I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2017. Anyone who has been dealt this hand will tell you what follows is a roller coaster ride over which you have zero control. None. Zilch. Nada. It dominates your life and you spend an enormous amount of time barreling from one thing to the next – tests, surgeries, treatment. It seems endless. Given my inability to work farther ahead than what is right in front of me, the whole experience left me in a weird stagnant state.

I had my last surgery in November and have spent the couple of months since feeling lighter, liberated from the burden of my disease. If ever there was a year to make resolutions, it is this one. Of course, I am who I am and thus, in lieu of resolutions, I have made a series goals.

Here are a few:

Run a 5k. Okay. On it’s face, this does appears to be a broad resolution. I’ll give you that.  But I have a reason – and a plan. I shared in my last post a few words of wisdom from my tennis coach: “One does not get in shape playing tennis, one must get in shape to play tennis.” In order to do that, he wants me to run. I hate to run so that poses a challenge. I am finding that merely telling me to run for the sake of tennis is no real motivator. I need to be able to break it down, reason it out and formulate a plan of action.

The solution to my problem – the Couch to 5k (C25K) app. This provides the goal and workable plan to get from point A to point B. The app breaks it down into weekly workouts (walking/running combos) that builds from easy to hard as your stamina improves. It charts your progress and provides a bit of verbal motivation as you run. I picked the drill sergeant to cue me when it’s time to change up the pace. I find it fitting.

So the goal is to train myself to run a 5k in 9 weeks. In doing so, I will have improved my overall fitness which, in turn, will improve my tennis game. Just in time for the spring season. Two birds. One stone. A to B to C.

Nurture the good, eliminate the bad. This is a goal that follows me year to year. There are those in my life who will tell you I am not prone to sugarcoating things. I call it how I see it. I suffer no fools and take no bullshit. Generally speaking, that’s a pretty accurate assessment. But I find that when it comes to certain interpersonal relationships, I struggle to make good on this goal. It’s a constant work in progress for me.

I do feel I have made improvements. A cancer diagnosis has a clarifying effect. For me, it put a lot of things into perspective and forced me to take stock. In 2017, I cleaned house and eliminated a lot of negativity from my life. I took to heart the notion that people treat you how you allow them to treat you. Once I accepted that, what followed was easy.

Of course, when you take a scorched earth approach, the result is an altered landscape. It can be stark and isolating at first, but what sprouts up out of the ashes is something much hardier and meaningful. However, it is important to remember that what grows must be tended and nurtured if it is to survive. Relationships are nothing more than flowers in a garden to be watered and fed. Right now, I have a garden full of beautiful flowers and it’s my goal for 2019 to continue down this positive path, weeding out the negativity as I go.

Write. Write. Write. No post on goals would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. Writing. I have not written much the last few years. I have a combination of reasons and I could waste your time ticking them off one by one, but I won’t. In truth, the biggest reason I haven’t written is because I have lacked desire.

Part of me wants to blame this drought on an absence of words – I didn’t write because I had nothing to say. That’s a lie. I have plenty to say. And plenty of words. Lots and lots of words. They tumble around in my head, a constant buzz in my ears pulling me inward, competing for my attention, keeping me up at night. I just couldn’t bring myself to put forth the effort to write them down, to put them out there for all to see.

I think fear plays a role. Probably more than I would care to admit. It’s never easy putting pen to paper and giving life to the things you’ve never said aloud. When something scares us, our first instinct is to run away. I have let my fear get the better of me for far too long. It’s past time for me to face this challenge head-on and that is what I plan to do in 2019.

This blog was a first step in that direction. I have plans to begin a collaborative work with a dear friend – a creative non-fiction piece that is thirty years in the making. I have also started working on a project that I have toyed with for a while, but never really committed much effort to fleshing out. I feel inspired by it. I have also been invited to rejoin a writing critique group. With strangers. I am still working this one out in my head. The introvert in me is screaming in protest, but writing groups are always great source of motivation.

I feel good about 2019. Of course, I felt good about 2017, too. It only took about two weeks for it all to go to shit. The universe has a funny way of reminding us of who’s really in charge. Even still, I am looking forward to what the new year will bring, and have faith that it will be as wonderful as I hope.

Happy New Year!

Lessons learned: 2018

The holidays have never been my favorite time of the year. I could go on and on about the decorations, the expectations, the obligations, the assholes at the mall…but I won’t.

Oddly, I don’t feel quite so scrooge-like this year. Maybe it’s all the wine. I’ve consumed more than my fair share over the past week. Pretty sure my liver is completely pickled at this point. I have switched to lemon water in an effort to flush the system and reset. I even hefted my ass to the gym on Christmas Day. Never hurts to get a jump start on those pesky new year’s resolutions.

I won’t go so far as to say that I am feeling festive. That’s a stretch even in the most optimistic of times, but as I sit here in my pjs staring at the rapidly disintegrating evergreen wreath over my mantel, I am reflective.

While 2017 was a year straight out of Dante’s Inferno, 2018 wasn’t too bad. Here are a few things I learned this year:

Doctors inevitably insist that it takes six weeks to recovery from surgery. Any surgery. Big or small. Doesn’t matter. I’ve mentioned before that I had a bout with a little cancer. Breast cancer. Lost a boob. Had a little radiation. Got a new boob. Five surgeries in all. Every time – six weeks. No more. No less. Of course, I am who I am, and therefore the proverbial thorn in my doctor’s side. I do believe my medical chart comes with a black box warning indicating my penchant for noncompliance. I’m not programmed to sit around doing nothing when I could be doing something. During the last visit with my doctor, two weeks after my final surgery, I asked when I could return to the tennis court. He crossed his legs, leaned back in his chair and gave his nurse a bit of side eye. He knew what was coming.

“Four more weeks,” he said.

“No,” I said giving him my best resting bitch face. “Too long.”

My doctor is a kind man; intelligent; a respected leader in his specialty field. I’ve been his patient for two years. In that moment, he looked resigned, beaten down. He let out a long breath.

“When are you thinking?”

“Today.”

“Today?”

“Yes. This afternoon.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face and began to go through a long list of reasons why I should limit my activity for the remaining four weeks of my six week recovery. It’s a list I can recite from memory.

“Are you telling me no?” I asked, cutting him off mid-sentence. I can be blunt to the point of rudeness. It’s part of my charm.

“No, I would never tell you no, but…”

“Good. When’s my next follow up?”

“Three months.”

“Very good.”

By sundown, I was on the tennis court drilling with my team and I haven’t looked back. Fuck your six week rule.

“One does not get in shape playing tennis; one must get in shape to play tennis.” These words of wisdom were bestowed upon me just last week by my tennis coach. I love my coach. He’s an older gentleman, north of seventy with the patience of a saint and a brutal honesty that never lets me get too full of myself. As I’ve said, I have had five surgeries over the last 2 years and it goes without saying that it has taken a toll on my overall fitness. For every week off the court, I feel that I take two steps backwards in my progress towards becoming a better player.

I’ve never been a marathon runner….or a 5k runner…or a runner at all. In fact, I really hate running. Seriously. Hate it. A glaring contradiction for a tennis player who is looking to improve and win matches. My coach knows and understands this about me. He’s also not afraid to tell me I need to get my shit together. Last week, as he sat next to me on a bench while I tried to catch my breath, he gave me an assignment. He told me to run. Not just run. Run fast. Sprint. As fast as I can for a quarter length of track. Then rest. Then run as fast as I can again – repeating this pattern over and over and over.

I started on Christmas Day. I hated it and thought bad things about my coach the whole time. But he’s right. He’s always right. I want to win matches. I want to win and so I must run. I don’t have to like it, I just have to do it.

It’s okay to be selfish with my time. I think this is a plight shared by mothers and wives alike. We give so much of ourselves to those in our charge that we forget to save time for ourselves. And should we be blessed with a bit of alone time, we are plagued by guilt. Always – the guilt.  My daughter graduated six months ago and my life as a band mom came to an abrupt end.  I suddenly found myself in possession of a rare commodity – time.  Precious time.  Me time.  Time to do what I wanted, when I wanted and with whomever I wanted.  

At first, it’s a little overwhelming.  You aren’t quite sure what do with it, this golden egg that has dropped into your lap, seemingly out of thin air.  You look around to see if anyone sees what you see; to see if anyone steps into reclaim it.  When no one comes, you take it in your hand, wrap your fingers around it and hold it close to your breast.  

“Mine.”

The word lingers on your lips, a mere whisper at first, as soft and sweet as a baby’s breath.  

“Mine,” you say again.  

The word comes louder this time, with gusto.  Your confidence builds.  You scramble to your feet, still clutching the golden egg tight against your chest.  With the sound of your heart pounding in your ears, you take one last look around, just to be sure no one is watching.   Then slither off into the shadows, to the place where your secrets are kept. With a gentle hand, born out of the fear that the egg will dissolve into dust right before your very eyes, you tuck it away.  Nestling it safely among all the things you treasure most in life.  All the while, repeating a single word. 

“Mine…mine…mine…”     


On lessons learned: an epiphany

They say to have a successful blog, you need to have a theme, continuity, some sort of consistent content.  My rebellious-self thinks such a rule is complete bullshit.   Who says I have to follow a formula?  It’s my blog.  Not yours.  Mine.  My realistic-self knows and understands there is some merit to this.  If only to give clarity and the illusion, however fleeting, of forward momentum.  In an effort to keep things moving, I’m going to fall back on a founding principle.  I started this site as a means of discovery.  Every experience in life, be it profound or trivial, is an opportunity to learn.   To learn is to grow; to grow is to live.  

And with that, here we go:

As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter recently graduated high school.  In this day and age, most kids are involved in extracurricular activities that dominate not only their own time, but also that of their parents.  Her activity of choice – marching band. 

I never used to be a joiner.  Even now, I have to really want to do something to get involved.  I’m not sure how it happened, or exactly when it happened, but somehow I found myself sucked down what I like to call the “booster club rabbit hole.”  In the blink of an eye, I went from casual volunteer to all in – up to my eyeballs in booster business.   I lived and breathed band for four years.  It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

It was also one of the most exhausting – both physically and mentally.  In the run up to graduation and the end of my tenure, I was conflicted.  I was tired and more than ready to turn over the keys to the castle to the next generation of band moms; but at my core, I am a control freak.   Change is hard.  Letting go is harder.   In the final days, I cried.  A lot.  I just couldn’t imagine my life without band.   I also couldn’t fathom how band would survive without me.  

Yes.  I know.  The arrogance of that statement is not lost on me.  It’s just that at some point, I let the role I played as “band mom” solely identify my existence.  I was a band mom.  Nothing more; nothing less.  I wouldn’t allow myself to accept the idea of life after band.   For them or me.

I’m not much for spontaneity.  I don’t make quick, unfettered decisions.  I mull things over, weigh my options, consider the repercussions of every action I take, and plan accordingly.  As such, I had an exit plan in place for leaving my booster position.  I knew exactly what needed to be done, how it should be done and when.  The only problem – everyone else.  I fought it for a while, agonized over it, wrote a few blistering emails, cried a lot of tears.  Then one bright sunny Saturday morning in June, I had an epiphany.  I’d had enough.  I was done.  Totally over the whole fucking thing.  By the afternoon, the handover to my successor was complete.  The baton officially passed.

I was free.

One week later, I was sitting on a sandy beach in the Caribbean with my family and my old friend Bacardi, doing absolutely nothing.  It was wonderful.  In the six months since, I’ve read a lot of books, binged a lot of television, and played a lot of tennis.   I have moved on from band; and band has moved on from me.  

Life goes on.

  

On a return to writing

I started this blog several years ago, during a period of personal transition.  I dubbed it my “journey of self-discovery.”  It was a means of navigating the shit life threw at me without actually having a nervous breakdown.  We all go through such times – pivotal points of change where what was is no longer, but what comes next is unclear.  The uncharted path forward littered with the debris of uncertainty and self-doubt.

I have always found writing cathartic and have long been fascinated by the first-person, introspective essay.  Especially when written in the vein of  philosopher Michel de Montaigne.  He dared to pose the indelible question, “Who am I?”, and then spent a lifetime seeking to find the answer through the art of composition.  As an introvert prone to spending a great deal of time stomping around inside the cluttered recesses of my own head, I find the prospect of introspection both enlightening and liberating.

So what changed? 

Life. 

My last blog post was nearly 3 years ago.   A lot has transpired in the intervening time period.  I changed jobs, sold my soul to my daughter’s band booster club,  started playing tennis, came down with a bit of cancer, saw my daughter graduate high school then stood on the sidelines as she navigated her way through her first successful semester of college.  To say it’s been a roller coaster ride would be an obvious understatement.  The highs were invigorating; the lows gut wrenching, at best.  

Now, all these years later, I find myself once more standing on the precipice, Grendel’s mother at my back – the ever present reminder of challenges faced; before me, the uncharted path forward, littered with the debris of uncertainty and self-doubt.   

I have come full circle.   

      

Promise of a new year

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

― Alfred Lord Tennyson

Christmas is not my thing.  I make no bones about it, and offer up no apology.  If I had my way, I would spend the entire month of December on a beach in the Caribbean – book in one hand, frozen concoction in the other, the grit of sand between my toes, the roar of surf in my ears.   No traffic, no clutter of decorations, no batshit crazy holiday-goers with blood in their eyes.

Of course, it’s not all about me.  Ever the humble conformist, I bow to social convention.  I put up a tree, battle the mall, send out Christmas cards. All the while, with an eye to the horizon.  The new year shining in the distance, a whispered promise drifting in on the wind.

Change is in the air.

As I write this, I am well aware that the new year has come and gone.  My January was a fantastic whirlwind.  But that is a blog for another day.  I’m only just beginning to collect my thoughts:  reflecting, evaluating, forging the plan ahead.  I’m not one to make resolutions. To me, they amount to nothing more than simplistic commitments bearing unrealistic expectations.  Having said that:  I do look upon the new year as a period of renewal. Redemptive, in a way.  A chance to build upon what works; adjust what doesn’t.

Last year was a period of transition for me.  The hip injury I suffered a few years ago progressed into something too significant to ignore.  I was forced to address it once and for all.  It was a frustrating process – slow and tedious with more setbacks, more pain, more tears than I care to remember.  It took almost a year, but I have finally put the “yoga class from hell” to bed.  It’s quite liberating to be out from beneath that beast.  Physically, I am in great shape – the best in five years.  I’ve slimmed down and toned up.  I feel fantastic.

With a look ahead to 2016 and in an effort to exploit this new found freedom, I began to explore an idea that has rolled around in my head for a while now – tennis.  I wanted to play tennis again.  I played when I was young, but haven’t in over twenty-five years. There are a lot of reasons for this – lack of opportunity, physical challenges, my social introversion.  Joining is difficult for me.  But if there is one thing I have learned over the last few years, it is that one cannot truly live within the construct of self-imposed isolation.  ‘I can’t’, ‘I don’t’, ‘I won’t’ are phrases born out of fear.  And fear is detrimental to our natural evolution and quest for a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Bearing that in mind, I signed up for tennis lessons last week.

I think 2016 is going to be a fantastic year.

Let’s see where it will take us.

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Week 1 update

Total words written since last Saturday = 15,850.

I started out slow but have gained a lot of momentum in the last few days.  It’s amazing what an outline and few zippy action scenes can do for you.

Wish me luck for week two.

Write on.

4 Notable Reads from 2013

I used to be an avid reader, devouring books by the truckload. Classic literature, chic-lit, crime novels, spy thrillers, historical fiction, creative non-fiction, traditional non-fiction – it didn’t matter, I read it all.  But in recent years, my appetite has waned.

My problem is two-fold: 1) too much academic reading tends to diminish my desire to read for pleasure; and 2) as my own writing evolves, I find myself increasingly critical of the works I read, and incapable of suffering bad writing for the sake of a story.

That last part makes me feel like a pretentious jerk.

And perhaps I am.  But more likely, its just that over the years, my taste in reading material has become more discriminate.  I think it’s only natural.  I mean, twenty years ago, I drank fruit flavored wine coolers because they tasted like punch and provided a nice little buzz.  Today, I have learned to savor and appreciate the bouquet of a full-bodied Cabernet without devolving into a drunken train wreck – usually.

In 2013, I made a point to read more.  I participated in author Patricia Burroughs’ Embarrassment of Riches – TBR Challenge.  I did fairly well, though about halfway through, I began to turn away from the books I’d been meaning to read, and moved toward new titles.  But I read, and that’s all that really matters.

I completed about a two dozen books.  Not a huge amount, but it was a decent start.  I finished working my way through Daniel Silva’s complete body of work.  Some were good, some were not.  Against my better judgment, I was suckered into reading Dan Brown’s latest – hated it.   I also discovered that I’m not a fan of Tom Clancy’s written work, which was disappointing; and I found the classic Sherlock Holmes adventures to be a bit tedious – also a grave disappointment.

Despite this, there were a handful of titles that I did enjoy – very much, in fact.  Here are four that left an impression (in no particular order):

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (a.k.a J.K. Rowling):  At the risk of provoking the wrath of my limited readership, I have a confession: I am not a Potter fan.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that tidbit.  

Are we good?

Cuckoo was an impulse buy, picked up at the last-minute while standing in a ridiculous line at my local big box booksellers.  I brought it home and did with it what I usually do with such purchases – I put it on my nightstand and left it to collect dust. Two months later, after reading a couple of historical books on religion and ready for a change of pace, I plucked it off the nightstand, wiped away the dust bunnies, and prepared to be underwhelmed.

I confess.  I never read the jacket blurb.  If I had, I might have delved in sooner. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the main character was a down-on-his-luck gumshoe.  I’m a big fan of the whodunit – Edgar Allan Poe, Carolyn Keene, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Ellery Queen (Dannay and Lee).  I spent my formative years devouring every such novel I could dig up at my local library.  While my friends were reading Sweet Valley High and Beverly Cleary, I was immersed in detective stories.

Needless to say, I was captivated by Galbraith’s (Rowling) Cormoran Strike.  There was an old-school feel to him that called to mind Chandler’s Philip Marlowe – smart, capable, a little fucked up.  The plot was compelling, the pace typically British – slow but persistent, the conclusion satisfying and not altogether obvious.  I was at times irked by Rowling’s general writing style, but it was nothing too traumatic, and easily overlooked by my need to discover the killer.

I am not often surprised by a book, so to that I say:  Bravo, J.K. Rowling.  Bravo.

I hear there will be a follow-up.  I look forward to it.

The English Girl – Daniel Silva:  I did not intend to read this novel when it was released last July.  As I said above, I’d just spent the better part of six months entrenched in Silva’s work, and was suffering from burnout.  I pre-ordered a signed first edition, of course.  How could I not?  It’s Daniel Silva.  Duh.  But I did not set out to read it immediately.

Then it was delivered.

I read it over the course of two days and loved it.  What struck me about this particular offering was Silva’s move away from the formulaic plot structure that seemed to dominate most of the Allon series.   He brought back a key character from early on, Christopher Keller, who first appeared in The English Assassin as a former SIS officer turned contract killer hired to eliminate Gabriel.  One of the great things about Silva is his knack for writing bad guys in a sympathetic light – he makes them human.  I was intrigued by Keller from the outset, and knew there was a certain depth of character in him begging to be explored.

In The English Girl, Silva brings Keller into the fray by forcing Gabriel to elicit the assassin’s help in finding a missing woman for a well-connected friend.  It’s a contentious arrangement, and one that rewards the reader with some witty and off the cuff banter.  Moreover, he brings to life a certain professional rivalry that highlights their individual strengths by forcing them to work in conjunction with one another in order reach a common goal.  It’s fascinating to watch, and really gives this thirteenth Allon novel some meat to go along with the usual potatoes.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth – Reza Aslan:  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  I am not an overtly religious individual.  Sure, I was raised in the Catholic church, received all of the necessary education to achieve a certain standing within the Church, but at my core, I lack the deep sense of spirituality required for unconditional faith.  That being said – I am drawn to religious history, particularly how it relates to the social, political, and economic development of civilizations.

I stumbled upon Zealot while listening to NPR during an afternoon commute.  I was intrigued by the author and found some merit in the premise he presented.  I picked up a copy during my next visit to my favorite booksellers – and if truth be told, I believe this to be the visit I also acquired The Cuckoo’s Calling.

There is a certain aura of controversy surrounding the book.  The author’s Islamic faith has caused some in the media to question the legitimacy of his claim that Zealot is an unbiased biography of Jesus – the man as he was in first century Palestine, not the revered figure we know from Christianity and the Bible (for a bit of context and a good laugh click here).  Given the author’s extensive education and employment history, I am apt to dismiss such questions as right-wing rhetoric.  Though, I did have a professor who lectured that there is no such thing as an unbiased retelling of history.  As humans our worldview is influenced by emotion, education, and experience, and thereby, naturally skewed.

It’s a valid view, and I think one that holds true with this book.  Nonsense aside, I did enjoy the book very much.  Vivid in its descriptions, it read like a novel, filled with all those things I love: murder, intrigue, and betrayal.  It was well-researched with a clear point of view.  If I were to have an issue at all, it would be with Aslan’s dismissal of the Apostle Paul’s importance to the evolution of early Christianity.  He tends to lay most of the credit at the feet of James, brother of Jesus.

This would be the point where my own biases come into play.

Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State – Randolph Campbell:  When I moved to Texas as a teenager in the late ’80s, I went through a period of culture shock.  Texas was unlike anywhere I had ever lived.  I often equated it to moving to a foreign country – you might reside within the borders of the United States, but it’s a whole other world down here.

I always wondered why.  What gave Texas its tenacity, its iron will, its independent spirit, its unabashed balls of brass?

Last semester, I took a Texas history course, and Gone to Texas was the required reading. Unlike other course readings, this one didn’t have that textbook feel.  Campbell’s writing style is easy and fluid, a bit tongue in cheek in places, and at times, ironic.  He provided a fantastic survey of the state, spanning more than four and a half centuries – from the first ill-fated Spanish expeditions, to Coronado and La Salle, to the rise of Spanish occupation and the establishment of the first missions, to Mexican independence and Anglo infiltration, to Moses Austin, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, and Santa Ana, to the battles of Gonzales, Goliad, the Alamo, and San Jacinto, to the rise of the Republic, Annexation, Secession, and the Civil War, to the age of cattle, the oil boom, and beyond.

Whew.  That’s a lot of history.

It was great book, and even though I paid an exorbitant amount of money for it (that’s a blog for another day), I’m glad I read it.

As for Texas, I think John Steinbeck captures the essence of the state best:

“I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America


Photo of the day

Bear with me while I continue to sift through my photos.  I am in a wondrous state of rediscovery.

This one was taken along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.  He seemed quite determined, almost as if he were a duck on a mission.  I watched him for long time, followed him, harassing him with my camera – but he was steadfast and never altered his path.

My writer’s mind imagined he was a covert agent on the way to a clandestine meeting with a top-level CIA official.

What?

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Photo of the day

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
―John Keats, Endymion: A Poetic Romance

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The best-laid schemes…

I have spent the last few days ridding my house of nauseating Christmas cheer.  The holidays are all fun and games in the outset, but there comes a point where the scale is tipped, and all those decorations begin to call to mind a tinsel and glitter infused bordello – or at least, what I imagine such an establishment might resemble.  I’m not one to suffer clutter for long, so the purge was swift and exact.

Of course, now that the tree is gone, the nephews departed, and the NYE champagne hangover nursed, there is a question of what comes next.

I try to avoid New Year’s resolutions.   Rash promises made in the heat of a self-loathing pity party aren’t normally destined for fulfillment.  In my 41 years, I have only realized one true resolution – a weight loss of 50 lbs some seven years ago. I did keep it off, so maybe that should count double.  Hmm…I digress.  As I sit here on this cold January morning, sipping coffee and listening to Norah Jones shoot the moon, I have the itch to plot a path forward.

So, I asked myself this question:  What do I want to accomplish in 2014?

I had to make a list.

  • Write 2000 words per day, everyday.
  • Finish Retribution rewrite #7 (or is it #8 now?!?) by spring break.
  • Publish one kick ass blog entry per day.
  • Submit a scene per week to the writing group for feedback – or a good laugh.
  • Graduate.
  • Conquer fitness boot camp and run a 5 K.
  • Read two non-academic books per month.
  • Learn to kayak.
  • Take kick ass photographs from moving kayak without drowning.
  • Learn to speak Italian.
  • Attend the U.S. Open – it’ll be Federer’s come back season, I can feel it.
  • Complete an outline for Summer of ’87.
  • Complete a draft for Summer of ’87, and win NaNoWriMo doing it.
  • Survive the holidays without committing a felony.

Too ambitious?  Yeah.  Who am I kidding?  Federer isn’t going to stage a come back this season…or anything other season, for that matter.

As for the rest…well, as much as I’d like to say it’s doable, it’s obviously not.  I have a life – work, family, school, outside obligations, nagging phobias.  After a healthy dose of reality and little soul-searching, here is a more reasonable list:

  • Write four days per week.
  • Publish 3 blogs per week.
  • Post a daily “photo of the day” on the blog.
  • Complete a working draft of Retribution by summer.
  • Graduate.
  • Submit a scene per week to the writing group for feedback – or a good laugh.
  • Read one non-academic book per month.
  • Get within five feet of a kayak; take a kick ass photo of said kayak; post it on the blog.
  • Attend the U.S. Open; cheer for Djorkovic.
  • Consider validity of YA/coming of age concept novel Summer of ’87; participate in NaNoWriMo.
  • Survive the holidays without committing a felony.

A decent compromise, I think; and one that has potential.  It helps that for the first time since last spring, I am feeling creative and inspired – and open to interaction.  The latter is always difficult for me, especially in this particular forum.  I’m going to work on that.

Alright.  Let’s get ‘er done.

Write on.

A Year in review…and photos, too

So, here we are again.  One chapter in the book of life ending, another beginning.  I always look forward to a new year.  Part of it is the unmitigated relief of having made it through the holidays without committing a felony; but also, there’s an unspoken promise of recommencement.  The aura of renewal and the endless possibilities of what may come, beckon me like a moth to a flame.

It’s all illusion, of course.  Logic dictates that there is no real difference between the end of one year, and the beginning of the next; no earth shattering kaboom; no sparkling fairy awaiting the stroke of midnight to sprinkle a handful of pixie dust on our heads, magically erasing twelve months of poor choices and lost opportunities.  It’s just another day, like any other.

But to hope is to be human.  A new year ushers in a sense of liberation and emancipation, and gives us permission to let go of our past and embrace the future.  This is a concept I readily espouse.  Although, I find that in order to completely move forward, I must first reflect.

It was a productive year, albeit exhausting.  What did I do, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.

This year I:

  • continued my foray into the mysterious world of geology, tried my hand at a little field work, and discovered I should leave it to the professionals.
  • participated in April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and won, exceeding my 25K word goal by nearly 5K.  Of course, I haven’t let a single word written during that month to see the light of day.  I shuddered at the very thought.
  • embraced a dairy-free diet.  My stomach and I get along much better these days.
  • spent the long Memorial weekend with the BFF and her family, exploring South Padre Island.  There’s nothing quite so relaxing as a beautiful beach, good company, and jug of margaritas.
  • discovered – and conquered – statistics.  Did you know that sometimes in statistics, p’s and q’s wear hats?  Crazy, yet oddly adorable.
  • learned that I’m too old to frolic on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.  It’s a task best left to the degenerate youth.  I did, however, have a wonderful time celebrating the BFF’s milestone birthday in the city she loves.
  • took a step toward tackling my fear of being eaten by a bear while camping.  No, I didn’t go camping in bear infested woods.  That’s just stupid.  I did go hiking for the first time, though.  And loved it.  Maybe next time I will forego the hotel in town and stay in a cabin by the lake.  Yeah, right.

While my writing was somewhat sporadic after Camp NaNoWriMo, I did take quite a few photos.  In the spirit of the coming year, and in an effort to toast 2013, here are a few.

Enjoy.

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Finding rhythm

Time management and multitasking are two virtues I was not blessed to possess.  I often struggle with attaining a harmonious balance between work, family, school, writing, and all those nagging little commitments generally associated with everyday life.  To the frustration of my inner circle, I must take things as they come, one at a time – chronologically. Experience has taught me that if I don’t adhere to this rule of thumb, I will devolve into:  a)  anger-laced irrationality; or b) total despondency – or what I like to call, the “fuck it” syndrome. Couple the latter with my inclination toward introversion and it is safe to say some things aren’t afforded the attention they deserve, or would otherwise receive under less stressful circumstances.

My focus the last six months has been school.  I’m almost finished and what I thought would be an easy semester, turned into an avalanche of homework that took more time than anticipated, and certainly more than appreciated.  Add to the mix, my daughter’s fall band and robotics schedule, and well – something had to give.   That something – this blog.  And my novel. Both became victims of the aforementioned “F.I.” syndrome.

Now in the aftermath of the semester that seemed to never end, I find myself with a bit of free time on my hands.  That’s not to say there aren’t new commitments and challenges eager to step in to fill the void left by my schoolwork.  There are cookies to be baked, cards to be addressed, gifts to be bought, malls to be conquered, and good cheer to be spread.

Blah, blah, blah.

I have to be honest here.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas.  The season’s inflated commerciality and disingenuous propaganda give me heartburn, and I resent the additional obligations and expectations to varying degrees.   After several hectic months, the last thing I want to do is be bogged down by holiday sludge.   What I want to do is get back into the rhythm of writing.  Whether it’s this blog, or my WIP, or something new – it doesn’t matter.  I just want to sit in front of my computer and get lost in the glow of the written word.

My words.

So, I am faced with a bit of a dilemma.  Bake cookies and address stacks of Christmas cards or write?  Do what’s expected or what I want?

I say fuck it.

Today, I write.

Nobody reads Christmas cards anyway.  As for all those cookies I don’t plan to bake now – I’m sure my friends and family will understand.  And if they don’t – I have a long memory and will adjust my cookie recipient list accordingly.  

Write on.

Autumn in the garden

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”   – John Muir

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Summer at the Arboretum

A rare thing happened here in my corner of Texas.  We were gifted with a mild July. Usually by this point in summer, the dreaded dome of high pressure has firmly planted itself over the region, deftly deflecting any wayward “cold fronts” and pushing the mercury over the century mark.  But this year, we have had unseasonably cool temperatures – afternoon highs in the high eighties and low nineties with morning lows in –*gasp*– the sixties.

It was almost like autumn.

So, what do you do when you are treated to fabulous weather in the middle of the summer?  Go to the Arboretum and take pictures of bugs, of course.

Duh.

Enjoy.

On a sad note:  It seems August will not be unseasonably cool.  Today’s high: 103.

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Embarrassment of Richest TBR Challenge – July check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I aim to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what have I read this month?

Sherlock HolmesA Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:  I have mixed feeling about this one.  While I did find the characterizations of Watson and Holmes engaging and enjoyed the visual of these two in the context of their time period, the mystery itself was less than gripping.   I was bored – plain and simple.   Bummer.

Mark of the Assassin – Daniel Silva:  Ugh.  This is Silva’s second novel and first attempt at serial work.  I started this one last month.  At the time of my June check-in, I was a few chapters in and not really feeling it.  I had hoped that once I was able to cleanse my brain of Dan Brown’s Inferno and the crushing disappointment of the Unlikely Spy,  something would click.  Wrong.  I read about half of it and walked away.   I didn’t like it.  I tried.  I really, really did, but I couldn’t connect with the characters, there was no depth or development, the writing was scattered and at times, repetitive.  Maybe in a month or two I will try again and things will be different.

Doubt it.

Progress toward goal:  12 1/2 of 24.

So what’s up next:

Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy.  This has been on my TBR list for years.  I love the movie – it’s one of my favorite – but I’ve never gotten around to picking up the book.  I hear Clancy can be a little on the dry side…we shall see.

Currently, I am very close to finishing Silva’s thirteenth Allon installment, The English Girl No, I wasn’t suppose to read it right away, but I couldn’t help myself.  It’s good, too.  Really, really good.

Of course, it a new publication and doesn’t count toward my end goal in this challenger.

Double bummer.

What’s on your nightstand collecting dust, begging to be read?

Ten things I learned last week

“To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be or you don’t be.”
― Golda Meir

1.         I learned it takes three full days to recover from falling off the no-dairy wagon.  Per doctor’s orders, I have been dairy-free for seven months.  At first it seemed an impossible lifestyle change, but it’s really not so bad.  Though, I will admit pizza with cheese is so much better than pizza without.  Anyway, it was all going so smoothly.  I had adapted well, and for the most part, have had very little in the way of dairy cravings.  That is until I stepped foot in an ice cream shop with no non-dairy choices.  Then, in the blink of an eye, seven months of dairy sobriety came to a gut wrenching end.  In all honesty, I really didn’t think it would make much difference.  I mean, how much damage could one scoop of chunky chocolate peanut butter ice cream do?

A lot.

Lesson learned.

2.         I learned that my morning bagel obsession might be even more hazardous to my health than the dairy.  No, not because those chewy rounds of mouth-watering goodness are packed with carbs and calories, but because I’m wholly incapable of handling a serrated knife without jeopardizing a finger or two.   Last week I required a trip to my local urgent care clinic after my attempt to slice open a bagel for toasting turned bloody.  Let’s just say my thumb didn’t appreciate the near filleting.

3.         I learned that just off the Alabama coast, beneath the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is a prehistoric forest dating to the Pleistocene.

How cool is that?

A very small part of me wishes I could scuba dive.  Of course, the rest of me – the part grounded in reality – knows and understand it will be a cold day in hell before that would ever happen.

4.         I learned that I don’t understand people who make a big show of announcing their impending departure from social media then never seem to go anywhere.  What’s that about?

5.         I learned that – speaking of social media – I really hate memes.  And cliché status updates.  And grumpy, negative people who complain all the time.

What are you looking at?

6.         I learned that I have a sudden itch to write a Snowden-esque character into my WIP.  I just can’t help myself.  These stories draw me like a moth to a flame.

And on a side note:  I learned that people are shocked to find out our government is spying on us.

To this I say:  duh.

I’m flabbergasted by such naivety.  I’ve been expecting the dudes in black to show up at my door for years to investigate the content of my Google searches.

7.         I learned that catching up on the backlog of blog posts in my WordPress reader is exhausting.  I love you all.  I love reading what you have to say, and viewing your beautiful photographs, but seriously, you people need to let me catch my breath.  It’s summer.  Take a break.  Go to the pool.  Drink a fruity drink.   Give me a week.  One week.   Then we can get back to business.

What do you mean it’s not all about me?

Source:  www.guardian.co.uk/BBC/Artists Studio/Steffan Hill

8.         I learned that Gillian Anderson is starring in a television show for the BBC called The Fall.  It might come as a surprise to some, but back in the day I was a huge fan of the X-Files.  Anderson’s Scully has always been one of my favorite television characters, second only to Jen Garner’s Sydney Bristow. 

I stumbled upon The Fall quite by accident while looking for something else on Netflix.  My interest was piqued when I saw Anderson’s name listed in the cast, and I couldn’t help but add it to my queue.  I spent Saturday night glued to the scant 5 episodes in the series.  The Fall is about a female cop brought in to hunt down a serial killer.  Sounds mundane and ordinary, doesn’t it?  It’s anything but.  It is dark and brutal and raw.  The acting is fabulous, the writing superb, and the pacing will leave you tingling with anticipation.  I loved every minute of it. 

Check out this review:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/10111545/The-Fall-BBC-Two-review.html

9.         I learned that a man in Brazil was killed when a cow fell through the roof of his house.  I’m perplexed by the logistics of such a thing.  Is it me or does this stink of a conspiracy involving the Chick-fil-a cow?

Check it out for yourself:  http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/15/19479766-reports-cow-crashes-through-roof-kills-sleeping-brazilian?lite

10.       I learned that the Twinkie is back.  I never understood the American fascination with this particular snack.  The yellow cake tastes like cardboard, the filling leaves an oily aftertaste, and the ingredient list requires a chemistry degree to understand.  I could go into a rant about the state of obesity in our country and the role processed junk food plays, but somehow I don’t think anyone is listening.

11.  This week’s awww moment is brought to you by a little garden spider who took up residence on my patio for a day or a two.

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Summer reading

I usually spend the first few weeks of summer wrapped in the warm familiarity of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  It’s an annual tradition born out of my desire to escape the drudgery of months entrenched in academic reading, and in an effort to recharge my wilted brain with something frivolous.  What could be more frivolous than hanging out poolside, the scent of chlorinated water and sunscreen wafting through the air, a margarita in one hand and a tattered copy of Pride & Prejudice in the other?

Not much, right? 

The prospect of frolicking through Georgian England with the Bennett clan should make me feel all warm and gooey inside.  Yet, this year, it doesn’t appeal to me at all.  It seems my rebellious self is protesting our journey down that well-worn literary path and is intent on lobbying for something new.  I suppose it’s to be expected.  Eventually, even the staunchest chocolate lovers crave a little lemon meringue. 

Of course, this leads to a troubling dilemma: 

What am I going to read poolside this summer?

I toiled with the answer to this question for quite some time.  My reading list usually consists of a gentle mix of historical non-fiction, contemporary (and/or Cold War era) spy novels, and familiar classics.  Occasionally, I will throw in a current commercial bestseller or a traditional whodunit to keep things interesting.   

Of late, I have spent a great deal of time enveloped within worlds created by a few of my favorite authors:  Daniel Silva, John le Carre, and Agatha Christie.  And to be completely honest, I’m a little burned out.  Sure, Silva has a new Allon novel dropping next week, and I pre-ordered a signed copy months ago, but I doubt I will dive into this latest installment anytime soon.

After barely surviving Dan Brown’s Inferno, and given my disinterest in Pride & Prejudice, I was beginning to fear that summer would come and go, leaving me wanting.  Then on a recent lazy Saturday, the answer to my reading dilemma came to me in a burst of unfettered brilliance.  It was one of those scorching days, too hot to venture outdoors before sunset.  My daughter and I were doing what we usually do to beat the heat – watching a Netflix marathon, camped out on the couch, noshing junk food.  

Our poison of choice – Sherlock Holmes. 

We started with the BBC’s Sherlock, meandered through CBS’s alternative take, and ended with Guy Ritchie’s quirky blockbusters.  As I watched, I was struck by the complexity of these two characters (Holmes and Watson) portrayed in vastly different settings and time periods, yet seemingly interchangeable.  I wondered what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have thought of our modern take on his iconic hero and sidekick; how would they stack up to their literary counterparts;  would I even like Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson after growing accustomed to the contemporary screen – big and small – versions?

I decided to find out.

Summer reading dilemma solved.

“Excellent!”…

“Elementary.”

Along came a spider…

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