The Spark

Myra's memoir, Myra today, and Myra at 13.
Myra’s memoir, Myra today, and Myra at 13.

I knew I liked Myra Lewis Williams 27 years ago when we went to lunch together for the first time. We were in a Mexican restaurant enjoying our meal when a cockroach crawled up the wall at her shoulder. Without breaking her stride Myra took off her shoe, smashed it, put her shoe back on, and went back to eating her enchilada.

I knew then that she was my kind of girl. We’ve been friends ever since.

We met when my husband started work for her husband’s real estate agency. She’d been doing a lot of public speaking and because I did, too, in my job as a seminar leader, we figured we’d have a lot in common. We do.

A year later Myra introduced me to Marka Palmer, who she’d met not long before at a conference. She liked Marka a lot, describing her as an all-Southern girl. Again, as soon as we met, it was apparent that the three of us would become best friends. Fast-forward many, many years and us “three amigos” are still so close that we tease that we have to remain friends forever because we all know too much about each other.

As a writer, for years I’d been saying to Myra, “You have to write another memoir! Women need to hear this story!” She’d tell Marka and me stories that made us laugh are butts off, cry like babies, and sit in sheer amazement. I knew her story of survival at the hands of an abusive husband, who she married at age 13, would be an inspiration to any woman who has ever endured abuse.

So last year when the time finally seemed right and she asked if I’d assist her in writing her memoir I was both thrilled and scared. After all, I’ve done a lot of writing and knew this was bound at times to be a grueling task. I didn’t want anything to mar our friendship.

Well, we survived and her book is amazing! The Spark that Survived is a testament to a woman’s ability to make it through life’s worst events. As Myra says, “It’s a book about how to survive life’s worst tragedies and your own dumbass decisions.”

I hope you’ll read this story and share it with others. Somewhere in your life is a woman who could benefit from this story. Maybe even you.

 

 

Dog Days of Summer

Happy_19_585975_20100501083158[1]In appreciation for the dog days of summer and our little furry friends who remind us to relax and savor them, my guest blogger is my sister, Karene Hughes. This is part of her chapter from our anthology of stories by 30 women, What We Talk About When We’re Over 60. Karene reminds us of the simple and yet most important pleasures our dogs offer us. Enjoy. ~ Linda

By Karene Hughes

I’ve never thought of myself as a patient person.  I did, after all, inherit that embarrassing family temper.  Remember the dad in the movie Christmas Story, down in the basement having the “conversation” with the furnace?  Yup, that was my dad.  My mom used to have her own conversations with the sewing machine and I was well into adulthood before I knew sewing didn’t involve #$%X@# words.  My sister once told me of the time she was putting up curtains in her bedroom, conversing with them as well, when her husband came into the room, calmly looked at her and asked “Do you need a pill or something?”  And me?  Well, I’m the one who has a little conversation of my own with the MicroSoft gods who have pre-determined that I can’t possibly know what I really want so they auto correct for me.  Don’t even get me started on cable and all those remotes.

So, imagine my amazement in learning that I do indeed have a very patient side.   All it took to discover it was 14 pounds of spunk and tenacity named Chelsie.

Although I grew up with a variety of dogs in our family, I had never adopted one as an adult.  Living alone it’s quite a commitment, always having to adjust your schedule around them.  So when my sister-in-law Val suggested I adopt her sister’s 11 year old Westie Chelsie, I hemmed and hawed.  Val and my brother Tom had two dogs of their own, which I often dog sat for, and they knew I loved dogs.   Val’s sister had remarried, had several children and had started a day care in her home, so Chelsie, being an older dog, was having trouble adjusting to all those children and their commotion.  I knew Chelsie from our family get-togethers and yes, I finally adopted her, but only on a trial basis.  I wasn’t at all sure how this would go.  Well of course, I absolutely fell in love with her in no time at all.  Loving and loyal, she was such a curious and happy dog that she was a delight.  I went from worrying about adopting her to worrying about the family wanting her back or her wanting to be with them and not me.  As it turned out, she was always very happy to visit them, but right by my side when I headed for home.  It was a perfect match for all of us.

If you know anything about terriers, you know they come with a surplus of personality.  While they may be stubborn, that stubbornness can also represent a tenacity that I came to deeply respect and admire.  Little dogs don’t see themselves as little.  They’re ready to take on the world.   Chelsie was such a character, she always made me laugh and I never grew tired of watching her watch the world.  She was very territorial.  In fact, she would leap off the couch and bark at any animal that appeared on TV.  I was amazed she could even recognize them, but she could.  Even a horse in the background would warrant a bark.  It was actually quite fascinating.  One day, though, I was sure she had it wrong.  A commercial came on with a man fishing from a boat.  Chelsie planted herself in front of the screen, stomping her feet and barking ferociously.  I laughed and told her “Sorry, Chelsie.  There are no animals in this one!”  Just then, the fisherman’s cell phone rang.  He answered it and heard “meow meow meow” and the screen changed to a cat on a cell phone calling him.  OK, either Chelsie was way too smart or had been watching way too much TV!

Chelsie and I spent almost two years together and she became an important part of my life.  I never tired of her adventures and grew to love simply watching her confident, adventuresome self while in the yard or on our walks.  Often I watched her in awe.  How on earth could so much attitude, affection, and just pure life be encompassed in that little 14 pound body.

When Chelsie neared 13, she developed kidney disease.  Hospitalized for several days, I was so in fear of her dying.  Once home, on meds and a new diet, she required subcutaneous saline injections several times a week to keep her hydrated, a necessity due to her disease.  During this time, as I knew her health was declining, she became slower and slower on our walks and in our activities.  While I always appreciated a good steady walk, I now slowed down, letting her set the pace.  The truth was, I grew to admire and respect her tenacity and attitude.  Here she was, having come so close to death and now in declining health, and yet she was still curious about the world around her and anxious to get out there and be a part of things.  As she became slower, stopping more often to sniff (her way of resting), I came to appreciate this slower pace myself.  I noticed this interesting tree with wildly twisting branches that I’d never really noticed before.  I’d stand and watch birds building a nest or see the first little crocuses making their way up through the snow.  All things we’d simply marched by before.   I came to appreciate this gift Chelsie was giving me.

Chelsie started to lose her interest in eating.  Each meal, I sat on the floor next to her, putting morsels of food in my palm, offering them to her and encouraging her to eat.  Meal time now had to be planned for and could span a half hour.  Instead of just letting her run about the yard on her own, I’d stay close, keeping an eye on her in case she needed me.  My whole world slowed down along with hers and more and more, I found this to be a blessing of its own.   I enjoyed simple moments in a way I hadn’t in quite some time.  I quit rushing so and became more patient with life itself.

When I realized Chelsea was failing and there was no more the vet or I could do, I took the day off work and spent it with her.  It was a beautiful, sunny day in June.  I got a blanket and we laid in the sun.  I stroked her, sang to her, napped with her and even sketched a picture of her.  When my brother and sister-in-law got home from work, we all went together to the vet’s. It’s hard to explain, but I know that Chelsea knew and that she really was ready.  The vet put her to sleep with us all stroking and talking to her.  She went very, very peacefully.

I learned a lot from Chelsie.  I had worried so about it being too much of a commitment (OK, a bother) to have a dog on my own, yet quickly found that the companionship, joy and unconditional love she offered was so much more fulfilling that I ever imagined.  It truly amazed me to discover that patient side of me, as well.  I’ve thought about that a lot since.  Part of it is that our dogs are truly so vulnerable and dependent on us.  How could I be impatient with that?  They have no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives. That’s the great thing about dogs.  They live in the moment with absolute honestly. Somehow, that makes whatever they require from you so much easier to give.  I learned a lot from Chelsie.

Oh yes, I eventually got a new dog, another rescue mutt. I knew I needed another little four legged friend to come along and teach me what I don’t even know I have yet to learn.

Revelations from a TV Slut

el-cine-en-la-tv-1It happened so quickly. There was no forethought; no plan. Before I knew it, I’d fallen into the depths of television depravity, indiscriminately taking in whatever show happened to appear at the end of my clicker. I became a dissolute, slovenly woman: a TV slut. There I sat for three days, watching hour after hour of numbing information float before my eyes.

It all started with my eyes, actually. After minor eye surgery and being ordered to “rest,” with no reading or computer work possible, and no exertion, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. (Never mind audio books or Rosetta Stone.) So I sat and stared at the tube across the room.

I now know how to lasso an alligator, should the occasion ever arise. I know today’s top value on every shopping channel. (I can’t wait to get the gold cream that’s going to make my aging skin young again.) I was devastated when Annie let her viper mother Judith talk her out of her favorite wedding gown on Say Yes to the Dress. I have been informed of every alleged affair of any man or woman who has ever lived in the White House. I have been convinced that aliens live amongst us. I fell in love with Adam on Bonanza all over again. And I cried when Long Island Medium Theresa delivered a message to a young woman from her departed fiance to go on with her life.

There were lots of snacks and popcorn involved. I’m sure if I’d had some bon-bons, whatever they are, I’d have eaten those, too.

Of course, there were also hours of TCM old movies, which I adore, and lots of Fixer Uppers on HGTV. I watched repeats of my favorite shows, like Outlander and Vikings.

Not all TV is bad. In fact, some is excellent. I loved some of the new shows I discovered. But the key is in being discerning, which I was not, and using that boob tube wisely. We want to be selective rather than slutty; we want to use the medium as an instrument for improving our lives. We want to do that for ourselves and certainly for our children.

I didn’t exactly grow up watching TV. When I was a kid we played outdoors. I thought it was the law or something, but children certainly were not allowed to sit around inside the house. Nor did we want to. There were so many adventures outside! There was the old depot and train tracks across the street, the abandoned house at the end of the road, bike trails through the woods, and Doc Rea’s veterinary barn half a block away. It was always fun to pop in there to see if he had a horse or goat that needed petting. We could walk the two blocks to town where the creek paralleled main street. Springtime was good for wading and letting tadpoles tickle our ankles.

Ah, that is indeed a long-gone era. When I was seven we got our first television set and, as far as I knew, it belonged to my Dad. We kids weren’t allowed to touch it. There weren’t enough seats in the living room anyway, so mom and dad each had their chair, which we did not deign to sit in, and the rest of us sprawled around on the floor, watching what our parents watched. Bonanza. The Loretta Young Show. Gillette Friday Night Fights. Being selective in our watching came without question, which left us lots of time to do other things. The rules relaxed as we got older, but habitual watching didn’t stick with any of us.

So that’s why I was surprised recently when I so quickly fell into mindless watching. What kind of television watcher are you? Selective? Or slutty? I had to work my way out. You can, too. Oh yes, it’s tempting to just stay there on that couch, glaring. It’s so much easier than… life. But, hey, in the end what do you want your tombstone to say? She knew how to sit and stare at a tube. Maybe you’d like something more meaningful than that. I know I would.

Comments are welcome.

#TelevisionWatching #BoobTube #Outlander #Vikings #Bonanza #TVSlut

Writers and Wrongers

typewriterLong ago I heard that title – a woman was describing herself as a wannabe writer who was really a wronger – and I loved it. After periodically seeing that phrase and mulling it over for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that most writers are probably wrongers, too. I know I am. That’s what makes good stories.

I’ve done a lot wrong in my life. An early college career that had no meaning to me. Giving up on my own hopes and dreams in order to please others. Occasionally falling into the despair of depression. An unhealthy second marriage that resulted in devastation. Being next to homeless except for the generosity of my sister. Assuming someone somewhere would take care of things and it wouldn’t have to be me.

Wow. That’s all great stuff for writing. Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” That’s what we as writers do. Rather than hiding our most embarrassing, dumb, and inexplicable life decisions, we open ourselves up and let them spill out all over the place. In the process, we figure out what was going on in our minds and what we can do to learn from it. We do this by putting bits of ourselves into each character we write. And by writing characters who are the people we aspire to be.

The reader, of course, never has to know. For example, a villainess in one of my stories, the bitch no one can stand, took a letter that had come in the mail for her friend and steamed it open to see if it was from a guy she herself had a crush on. When it turned out to be from the friend’s dad, she carefully glued it shut and put it back in her friend’s stack of mail. Now I’m not confessing that I ever did such a wretched thing; I’m just sayin’ I got the idea somewhere.

Writers get ideas everywhere. Every time something goes wrong in my life I catch myself saying, “Oh! That would be a good story.” Good stories, after all, are about overcoming life’s obstacles. They are about prevailing. They are about finding an inner strength you never knew was there. They are about discovery!

Although I couldn’t write about it until years later, some of my erratic behavior after the death of my first husband at age thirty-three is revealed in my novel Homecoming Queen. My thankfully short-lived, wacky second marriage can be found in soon-to-be-published Home Body. A trip my sister and I took when we were in our early twenties, where we camped from Michigan to California and back because we wanted to see the Pacific Ocean, is hilarious in Tough Rocks. Although we’d call home and lie through our teeth, telling our parents that everything was “fine,” in truth we ran into a hail storm that demolished the hood of our car; a flash flood that holed us up in Boulder, Nevada, for three days with nothing to do but watch the free movie of how the Hoover Dam was made; a dust devil that destroyed our tent; and melted tires when we drove through the Mohave Desert at noon on the hottest day in July. It’s that kind of adventure that makes for good writing, if you just let it roll rather than refusing to admit you were ever that stupid.

Writer Sylvia Plath said, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

So if you’re a writer or want to be a writer, go ahead and have the guts to spill out your life stories. Take your wrongs and let them write.

Examples and comments are welcome.

Image found on ruffledblog.com

When I Become Queen of the Universe….

tiara

I find myself using that phrase often. “When I become queen of the universe, we’ll do it my way…. Until then, we have to follow these other rules….” I’ve never been very good at following somebody else’s rules, especially when I think they’re stupid, which explains the numerous visits I had to the principal’s office when I was a kid. So today I like to entertain myself by thinking of all of the dumb rules I’d change if I were in charge of everything.

Think about this. What would you change, if you became king or queen, if you had the power? Here’s part of my list:

1. No more stuffing energetic, imaginative, joyful children into square box rooms all day long every day for school. It may as well be jail. Let them roam, explore, experiment, and get dirty. I remember thinking my body was going to explode if I had to sit still for one more moment in school. I wanted to be free! That was so long ago you’d think that by now school systems would be more advanced. Some are, but too many still are not. And why on earth does school start so early? Please! Let’s be reasonable.

2. No more dull duds at work! We’ll be able to wear whatever we want. Steampunk if you’re a teller at the bank? Sure. Why not? Let’s be individuals instead of sheep. A tee shirt and shorts in the office? Okay by me. Sneakers wherever you are? That makes it easier to take a walk for exercise during break time. I remember a long-ago boss telling me he didn’t like my shoes. (They were fabulous platform wedges.) I told him that was okay because I didn’t like his, either. He wasn’t impressed. But no matter what you wear I would require cleanliness. I like things to be clean. Oh, one more change at work: Nobody has to be there before nine a.m. Ten if you want.

3. Internet access for everyone, for the sake of reading and researching. Social media, messaging, and games, etc., are okay, but everyone needs to have access to books and resources. Good books. My books, too, of course.

4. Every town will have a library that is liberally funded so that, as well as books online, we’ll have lots of free resources. Best of all, there will be no late fees when you forget that one that fell under the bed. There will be plenty of librarians to offer workshops and classes on subjects of interest, like book discussions. And exciting storytellers will come and perform our favorite tales, even for us adults. Then we’ll all join in and learn the art of enchanting storytelling. Family dinners at home will once again come alive with everyone wanting to gather to hear the latest tales of intrigue, humor, and love. (Okay, a bit yippy-skippy. But, hey, it’s my fantasy universe.)

5. The old Celtic Brehon law for marriage will be reinstated. The first year of living together will be a trial union. Then, if it doesn’t work out, February 1st is the day that the wife can stand on the top step of their doorway and announce, “I quit you.” The guy has to leave. It’s over. No divorce. No questions asked. In all fairness, the husband can do this, too. If they like each other, the husband can stay but is required by law not to be “listless” in bed. So there.

My list goes on and on including building safe communities; life imprisonment for child, spouse, animal, or any other kind of abuser; and world peace. (Imagine me waving like a pageant participant on that last one.)

What about your list? What would you change?

Go ahead. Finish this sentence: “When I become queen or king of the universe, I will….”

Let’s go out there an make a better universe.

Strike a Balance

Balance-640x360Every time I read the phrase “life balance” I’m amazed that it even still exists. The first “Life Balance” seminars I conducted were thirty-five years ago. It was a hot topic in the late ’70s and early ’80s with books like You Can Heal Your Life and The Feminine Mystique being big hits. My own book from 1983, The Saga of a Superwoman, about not trying to be all things to all people all of the time was bought by corporations in bulks of hundreds to give to their female employees.

So way back then I assumed that by now everyone would be so informed we’d all be as good as Olympic gymnasts on the balance beam of life.

Me, too.

But the endless popularity of the topic is evidence to the contrary. That evidence is all around us with frantic parents, droopy-eyed commuters, and store clerks who can’t stop texting. Do you see yourself in any of those? Too many people are mired in what writer Nancy Forbes calls “the cult of busy-ness.”

I used to spend an entire day in my seminars doling out advice about how to streamline our days and find that elusive life balance. I’ve since decided that it isn’t all that hard.

There are some obvious tips, like start saying “no” to your kids every time they ask for one more activity to join. Sometimes teaching them that they, too, shouldn’t get caught up in busy-ness is the best parenting you can do.

Apart from that most obvious tip, there are three things that you can easily do to begin tuning down your lifestyle. The first are free and the last will cost a nickel or two, but is well worth it.

Firstly, take a walk. Yup. That’s it. Get out of your house, apartment, office, gym, classroom, shop, car, bar…. and walk somewhere. Look at what’s around you. Touch a tree or two. (Hugging not required, but feel free if so inspired.) If you’re in the city, look at the people on the street. The key is not only to get your body moving but to get your mind moving, too, away from the ordinary. Let yourself take in nature, clouds, people, animals, and uncirculated air. As corny as it sounds, reconnect with nature.

Secondly, read a good book. Let your mind escape to new places and your thoughts encompass new personalities. Use your imagination. Get lost in the book. Leave your life behind. You don’t need to buy books or own a Kindle or even search too hard. Just go to your local library and ask for recommendations.

Thirdly, try yoga, if you don’t do it already. If you do, make sure you let yourself leave your daily schedule, mental reminders, family harassments, work woes, and everything else on the other side of the door. Let your yoga mat be your place of peace, your escape from the rest of the world. This is a place and time just for you, just for renewing your soul. Remember your soul? It’s that part of you that so easily gets lost in the chaos of daily life. Get it back on the mat.

Don’t worry if you think you can’t do yoga. I’ve done it for years and am still quite  clumsy at it. I don’t care. I love it. My instructor, Sue, is marvelous at doing a basic pose and then saying we can stay there or go to the more advanced version that she demonstrates. Ha. I usually “stay.” At age sixty-six, the stretches feel fantastic and smooth out this body after other workouts during the week and far to many hours sitting at a computer. Go ahead; give it a shot. If I can do it, you can, too.

Best of all is that I have to focus so hard to do the poses that there isn’t one moment to worry, fret, or bitch in my head about anything. For one hour my entire existence is focused on not falling over. It’s a great metaphor for life.

Strike a balance of your own. Do whatever it takes to stay out of the morass of busy-ness that consumes so many. Take a walk, read a good book, and try yoga. Let your mind and body belong to you, not the rest of the world.