Things I’ve learned: Summer/Fall Edition

“And the yellow sunflower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood.”
― William Cullen Bryant

I always go into summer with three basic goals:

1.)  to write a lot;

2.)  to read a lot – preferably while lounging by the pool under a hot Texas sun, sipping a frosty margarita; and

3.)  to spend some quality time in nature – just me, my camera, and a blank Moleskine.

I always go into fall wondering what the hell happened to my summer.

It’s an eternal struggle.  The “best-laid plans” and all that jazz.  The truth is: summer is never as free-flowing and easy-going as I like to believe.  It is hectic and frenzied, a precarious balancing act dictated by obligation and commitment – life, love, band camp. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is a fruitless endeavor.  Quite the opposite. My summer was filled with moments of unscripted relevance, and it is within these fragments where true clarity is discovered. Here are a few things I learned over the summer…and into the fall:

1.  Sometimes the hype is right.  I’m not one to blindly follow the crowd.  I think it’s fair to say I spend a majority of my time in perpetual lag  – always trailing a few steps behind the cool kids. I attribute this to two things:  a.) an abundance of ignorance, and b.) an unwillingness to trust in the judgment of others.  One doesn’t have to look much further than E.L. James, comic book hero movie reboots, and selfies to understand the latter.  I hold firm in my belief that popularity rarely equates to anything worth a damn.

While this line of reasoning is beneficial in sidestepping steaming piles of mindless nonsense, it also tends to isolate me from the more noteworthy components of popular culture.  The Showtime series Homeland is one such element.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I make a concerted effort to avoid original programming distributed by pay-cable networks – HBO, Showtime, et al.  This has less to do with the quality of the works produced and more to do with my prudish nature.  I find the nudity and explicit sex depicted in these shows gratuitous and unnecessary.  There is an adage:  just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  I mean, really, explain to me how opening a scene with a main character receiving sloppy fellatio from a handful of naked courtesans contributes to the art of storytelling.  It is beyond my capacity for comprehension.

But…I digress.

homelandHomeland is the American version of an Israeli series called Hatufim.  It’s a spy drama – well-written, well-acted, and character driven.  All things that put it right up my alley. The only problem – it’s put out by Showtime, i.e. lots of gratuitous sex with little to no intrinsic value to the overall plot.  And so, despite the critical buzz, the media hype, the constant nagging from my inner circle, I ignored Homeland – for four seasons.

What changed?

Boredom (and maybe a little wine) on a soggy weekend in early June.  I binged for two days straight.  On the show, not the wine.

Turns out, all that hype was right.  Homeland is fantastic.  Claire Danes is wonderful (a total nut, but great).  Mandy Patinkin is brilliant.  Mr. Wickham plays an assassin.  An assassin!  How awesome is that?

rupert friendThe lesson here:  Mr. Wickham makes a great assassin…oh wait…it is really easy to fast forward through all that icky parts to get to the good stuff.  Who knew?

Everyone, but me.

2.  Nothing beats a birthday at the beach.  Birthdays depress me.  I know, so cliché, but it’s the truth.  I spend half the day contemplating the reality of my own morality, and the rest stuffing my face with cake to mask the pain.  Of course, then I feel guilty and spend the next two weeks at the gym trying to undo the damage.

This year, I took a different approach.  I went to the beach.

IMG_7716We spent the week in one our favorite places, just exploring.  There were sunset cruises and wildlife eco tours; a bit of shopping, a little sunbathing, a lot of food and wine.  On the morning of my 43rd birthday, I took a solitary walk along an empty beach as the sun came up, had a photo shoot with a cooperative Great Blue Heron, and ate my weight in mussels.

It was the best birthday ever.

From now on, all my birthdays will be celebrated at the beach.

3.  Starbucks has desecrated the sanctity of Christmas.  If I can’t have snowflakes and sledding dogs with my overpriced, calorie-laden latte then it is all for naught.  We might as well just cancel Christmas.

4.  Letting go and moving on.  I once wrote a blog about the ten things I learned in my thirties.  One of the most important lessons:  nurturing healthy relationship, and eliminating the bad.  Easy advice to give, tough advice to follow.  This is especially true when you fail to recognize the signs of a shifting landscape.  No partnership is perfect, of course – be it familial, marriage, or friendship.  We are only human, and thus inherently flawed.  Yet, if we take care and are vigilant, we are able to forge meaningful and beneficial bonds.

In every relationship, there is a certain degree of compromise and acceptance – the old give and take.  My husband snores like a freight train, but he takes out the trash.  It’s a trade-off.  We make it work.  It is along a similar vein that I measure all the relationships in my life – give and take.  Is it mutual?  Is it proportional?  Is it fulfilling?  Often these are easy questions to answer.  But sometimes I am blindsided by the realization that what was once mutually satisfying, is no longer viable.

For the last year, I’ve struggled with such a revelation.  In hindsight, the writing has been on the wall for a long time.  I blame complacency.  I am a creature of habit, and will sometimes go out of my way to avoid confrontation in order to sidestep the unpleasantness of change.

My epiphany came with an incident last Christmas that to most may seem trivial – a homemade gift given in love without so much as a thank you.  Yes, I know.  Trivial.  In the spirit of the season, gifts should be given without the expectation of reciprocation.  But the lack of acknowledgment hurt my feelings – deeply.  I’m not sure why it affected me in this manner.  I’m not prone to such sensitivity.  Yet, it did.  I suppose it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  One more thing added to a growing list of irritating and hurtful trespasses.  It changed my whole view and shined a light on something that I had long denied.  The friendship was dead.

And so, I have spent the better part of the year coming to terms with that reality.  It’s been difficult.  There is a certain amount of grief that comes with it.  And resentment.  But I have come to accept the fact that the friendship, in its original state, is gone. It is through this acceptance that I have found peace.  I suppose that is all we can hope for in life – peace.

5.  Awww moment of the week:  This is the part of my blog that I reserve for a picture of something adorable.  In light of recent events, I’d like to take a moment to pay my respects to the victims of the Paris terror attacks.

paris peace

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.

IMG_1936

IMG_2138 IMG_2200IMG_2578 IMG_2283 IMG_4790 IMG_4795 IMG_5060 IMG_5137 IMG_5144 IMG_5236 IMG_5319 IMG_5329 IMG_5338 IMG_5926 IMG_5939Happy New Year.

Things I learned this week

“A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population. He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it.” 

John le Carre

I’m on a bit of an early Cold War era spy kick right now.  Two reason for this:  I am writing a paper for my African-American history class that explores the Cold War’s influence on the civil rights movement; and I recently picked up a couple of John le Carre novels at my local second-hand bookseller.

I don’t have the luxury of a lot of free time this semester.  I spend most of my days immersed in a bubbling vat filled with school, work, and family obligations.  However, I have been able to sneak in a few minutes here and there – mostly in the carpool line – to delve into the 1963 classic The Spy who Came in from the Cold and the dark world of aging British spy, Alex Leamus.  It’s not a book packed with action.  Indeed, most of the story plays out within Leamus’ head as he struggles to find moral justification for his life’s work.  I find his introspection fascinating.  John le Carre is a master of his craft, and I am more than a little jealous of the intricate and thrilling story he weaves – without blowing anything up.  Amazing.

Alright, so now that I’ve bored you to tears with my spontaneous book review, let’s get down to business.  I’ve learned a lot this week.  Some good; some not so much; all of it meaningful to my journey of self-discovery.

I learned this week:

that I missed having the BFF around.   This week she and I were able to meet in the middle of the day, on a whim, for a little coffee and girl talk.  It’s been years since we’ve lived close enough to do that.  It was a fabulous way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

(rant of the week)

…that sometimes I expect too much from of my higher education experience – and my professors expect too little from their students.   As I’ve said before, I am in the midst of the group project hell.  In general, I struggle with these sort of things because a) I am a control freak; b) anything less than perfection is failure; and c) I am an introvert who finds prolonged interaction with people I don’t know (or necessarily like) exhausting.  It is no different with this project, though I do generally like the members of the group.

This assignment is two part:  written paper and oral presentation.  Everyone has an individual part to play, but success is contingent upon cohesion.  Bearing this in mind, I took my portion of the paper to my professor for help with an unusual citation.  I would hate to get it wrong and the group grade suffer for my incompetence.

He took it from me, read the first line, looked up at me over his reading glasses and said:  “Are these your own words?”

I said:  “What?  Of  course, they are my own words.  Why on earth would you ask me that?”

I glanced down at my paper because, by this time I couldn’t remember what I had written to illicit such a reaction.  It was a simple opening statement, short and to the point.  No fuss, no muss.  No ten dollar words.  Nothing complicated or provocative.  As you might imagine, I went through a medley of emotions:  shock, indignation, anger.  He backtracked then, but the damage was done.  I walked away from the conversation feeling irritated, more than a little offended, and wondering why I was voluntarily subjecting myself to such nonsense.

Over the next few days, the group began to email me their portions of the paper for editing.  My professor’s cynical attitude solidified before my eyes.  It turns out that decent writing in these sort of survey courses is not necessarily the norm.  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted by the lack of quality, and dare I say, effort, I found in their work.  While I understand everyone has different writing skills and styles, I had expected by this stage in the game, they would have gained the ability to produce a passably intelligent product – with complete coherent sentences.  You know, with a noun, a verb, and the occasional adverb or two thrown in for good measure.

I was wrong.  Lesson learned.

…that my dog’s most prized possession is his raw hide chewy thing, and it is imperative that it be kept stashed in a secret spot until it is time to finish it off.   As a novice dog mom, I am perplexed by canine behavior.  Cats are easy and predictable.  They expect to be fed, acknowledged upon demand, and left alone to nap wherever they choose.  Dogs are different.  Mine reminds me of a mischievous toddler – left to his own devices, mayhem ensues.

While in the backyard this week, I  watched Rocco dig feverishly in a remote corner.  I went to investigate.  He was burying his chewy thing.  I’m not sure why he thinks such a drastic thing is necessary, but there was an air of desperation in his actions.  I suppose he could be worried about a cat uprising.  He is, after all, the only dog in a houseful of felines.  He would be stupid not to feel a little paranoia.  I’m sure even as I type this they are plotting something diabolical.  Hmmm…it seems I understand Rocco a little better than I thought.

…that Skyfall is the best damn Bond movie I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen them all.  Multiple times.  In the beginning, I wasn’t thrilled with the choice of Daniel Craig for the part.  When they announced it, I was peeved.  He didn’t fit.  He wasn’t right.  I swore I wouldn’t see Casino Royale.  I was convinced it would be complete shit.  Then  I saw it.  I was speechless.  Bond had evolved.  He was grittier, rougher around the edges.  There was a vulnerability emulating from him, giving him a new level of humanity and mortality.  Despite all of my efforts to the contrary, I liked the film- I liked Daniel Craig as Bond.  I went into Skyfall with high expectations.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with another review.  If you like this sort of thing, go see it for yourself.  Tell me what you think.

…that my daughter has suddenly decided that jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets is not so repulsive after all.  I’m not real sure what to make of this sudden shift, but rest assured there is a boy involved.

that last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a ladybug I stumbled across in the garden.  He was an uncooperative subject who dodged my best efforts to shoot him from his more photogenic side.  It was almost as if he was mooning me.  Surely not.

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