Friday, March 30, 2012

10 Things You Can Do Instead of Seeing The Hunger Games

Spring is looking a lot better this year

My daughter is hoping to get to The Hunger Games amid her busy law school schedule.  Many of my blogging friends are writing their reviews of the post-Harry Potter teen obsession.  The neighborhood movie theater box office is shooting off fireworks for the amount of cash it’s raking in.  The young actress starring in the film is on the cover of every magazine except Car and Driver (Come to think of it, I might be wrong.  I better check again).

The world is starving for The Hunger Games.  However, I think I’ll decline the invitation to this feast.  I have enough to keep myself busy.  If you want to be a rebel and remain out of the Hollywood trending loop, too, here are 10 things you could do while everyone you know is donning their Team Katniss T-shirts and heading to the local cinema.

Empty your inbox – Perhaps, like me, you have more e-mails and other notifications sitting on your computer than you are willing to admit (I should have a contest to guess the number).  While the world is occupied watching “Ultimate Fight Club, Jr.” (aka HG) and you have no one to text for a couple of hours, you could take care of the chore you said you’d get to “when you have a little time.”

Spread mulch – Hey, if you don’t need it done at your house, come on over to mine for a couple of hours.  There’s plenty of work for everyone.

Learn to make a soufflé – This film seems as good an excuse as any to eat.  And the best thing about soufflés is even when they fail they taste great.

Make a list of every place you want to travel when you win the $540 million Mega Millions jackpot this weekend – This might be enough to get you first-class plane tickets around the world for two.  As long as you don’t check any luggage or oversized bags.

Teach your old dog new tricks – Or just take her to the park.

Old Skyler, waiting for that walk

Memorize phone numbers of your family and friends – Come on, admit it.  You couldn’t recite a single phone number if your life depended on it.  Pretend your car was swept down river in a flash flood.  You managed to escape the fiendishly swirling water and a good Samaritan picked you up and handed you a phone to call someone to come get you.  Quick, what’s the number? (I do have the veterinarian’s number memorized, but it hasn’t changed since I was a teenager.)

Watch something you DVR’d three months ago – That way you’ll have room to DVR HG when it shows up on your premium cable channel in about six months.

Head to the gym – I bet all your favorite pieces of equipment will be free during the 7 o’clock showing of the movie.  And you can tell everyone that you’re just getting in shape in case they enlarge their pool of HG contestants.

Cross three things off your to-do list – You don’t actually have to do them.  Just cross them off the list because if they haven’t gotten done by now and your house is still standing, then they weren’t that vital in the first place.

Make a big bowl of popcorn, sit in a soft cushiony chair, and read a book – It’s just like being at a movie . . . only it’s free, and the picture in your head is better than anything on the screen, and if you don’t like it you don’t have to feel guilty if you walk away.  In fact, you can just pick up another book immediately and repeat.

What was your favorite movie hype that you ever got caught up in (I was from the original Star Wars era.  We stood in line forever but I didn’t wear a costume)?  If you won’t be doing the HG thing, what would you add to my list of alternative activities?  How many phone numbers do you have memorized? Share your movie reviews, suggestions, rants in the comments box along with any ideas for a lovely spring weekend.

A year ago my garden had a completely different look.  Click here to see why and read my “Six Words on Happiness.”
six words1

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How To Join a Revolution, One Asparagus Stalk At a Time

 The last of the spring asparagus crop, shared four ways at lunch

Let’s face it, many of us would like to be part of a revolution.  We’d like to make a difference while we’re still standing, but – jeez – kids have to get to sports practice and we’ve had three late days at the office this week and our back has been hurting and . . . .

Sometimes life as a revolutionary can sneak up on us, though.

This month my husband and I took a drive south from Atlanta down Highway 20 to Sparta, GA (population, around 2000) to spend an afternoon with his aunt and uncle.  His family makes the rest of us look like slackers with their untiring work ethic and mania for creating new businesses about as often as we change hairstyles.  This one takes the cake, though.  Past the age when the rest of us are hoping to be retired, Robert and Suzy Currey decided to renovate a 150-year old house and take up organic farming.  That’s in addition to the furniture company, Currey & Co, that they still run.
It started as a garden to feed two people throughout all four seasons

They didn’t start out to join a revolution.  One day they went to Sparta to meet someone for lunch.  They had never visited the town before, but when they saw the 4000 sq. ft. house on Elm Street they had to buy it.  They also bought the 1930’s bungalow next to it to live in while doing the renovations. They closed up their home in Atlanta and headed to Hancock County to fulfill a dream they didn’t even know they had.

After making the 1850s house livable, they turned to the property.  What they found was soil that hadn’t been tilled in ages.  It had sat there quietly as the compost from decaying leaves and other overgrowth nourished it.  They had almost three acres of practically untouched dirt.  So they began to clear the land and plant a garden that would feed them throughout a year.  And that garden grew – larger and larger.

They learned organic planting and harvesting techniques by reading books and contacting every Georgia organization that supports organic farming.  As each year passed they added more raised beds, then hoop houses for those vegetables sensitive to cold or summer sun.  They built a shade house to experiment with growing mushrooms.  And before they knew it, they had a brand new business, Elm Street Gardens, as they started visiting farmer’s markets and selling weekly boxes of organic vegetables by subscription.  Now they’re learning how to nurture a small orchard planted in what had been the front yard of their adjacent bungalow.

Robert and Suzy have created a garden for the ages – literally.  They’ve become a teaching space, hosting young workers who come for the summer to learn how to get back to the earth.  Many people want to live a life like this, but if they didn’t grow up on a farm they’re not sure how to start.  And the investment in land and equipment is exorbitant while trying to learn the business.  Elm Street Gardens gives them a hands-on education.

I'd love to sit in the middle of the garden under an umbrella of wisteria in the summer

The founders of Elm Street Gardens have joined the revolution of those who want to eat organic and want to eat local.  In the process, they’ve opened up their garden to the next generation of food providers.  They have started a kind of “internship” by hiring a young couple to manage their property full time for a period to learn the business skills needed to run their own family farm.  After a while, another couple will take their place.

In just a few short years they’re looking to expand.  They want to convert an abandoned furniture factory down the street into a mushroom factory, selling locally sourced mushrooms to restaurants in a part of the world that can’t grow them in nature, as well as providing jobs for residents of the area.  Eventually they want to start offering gardening programs so we all can learn how to provide healthy vegetables for ourselves.  Robert and Suzy’s goal is that Elm Street Gardens continues offering its organic bounty and training to the next generation of farmers long after they’ve either retired for good or moved on to yet another project.

Their style of revolution may not make the headlines, but it does show how far we can go by following our passions outward into a community.  And it leaves me asking (as I do after every visit with my husband’s family) what did I do with my afternoon?  But, you know, the lawn needs to be mowed and I have to sort the laundry and . . . .

It's easy to imagine this was the view 150 years ago when one house supported a family, servants,
and - yes - slaves on a garden like this
How is your garden growing this spring?  What do you like to plant?  Have you ever started or joined a project that made you feel like a revolutionary?  Tell us everything in the comments box.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Today We Celebrate Puppies, the Number 7, and Helpful News

A resident cutie of Dijon, FR
Today is National Puppy Day!  Get out and celebrate by adopting one of your own through your local shelter or take the time to throw a ball for the dog you love now.  Or even post a picture of your own little fur-spreading machine. 
Skyler, my favorite spring bloom
This week I was tagged by blogger Tami Clayton to participate in the Lucky 7 Meme (and check out her previous posts about her trip to Morocco.  I have to go there).  It’s a game for writers who blog.  I’m supposed to post part of a work-in-progress.  The rules are simple:
1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP

2. Go to line 7

3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know
(If your WIP doesn’t have 77 pages, it would be perfectly acceptable to post 7 lines from page 7.)

As I went through the postings of other people she had tagged, and subsequently people that those people had tagged, I realized I was in a bit of a different boat.  Most of the players were fiction writers and had a thousand pages of some incredibly dramatic story of dragons and time travel (or the like) from which to choose (go ahead, follow her choices and their choices for a bit of fun reading).  However, I’m a non-fiction writer working on a piece that will be a collection of essays, so I couldn’t follow the rules exactly.

The best part about the game for me, though, was looking at my own writing through such a miniscule frame.  I pulled up many essays and counted my 7s and 7s.  And I didn’t like what I saw.  Isolating the text like that let me see so clearly how I need to rethink some aspects of my writing.  The story was good; the writing was weaker than I remember.  That said, here are the last seven sentences from a travel story I’ll share.  It’s about my experience with an unusual religious icon in Dijon, FR.  If the story ever gets accepted in a journal, I’ll give you a heads up so you can find out why I feel like I’ve been caught doing something wrong.

And then like a petty criminal worried about being caught shoplifting, I glanced around to ensure I hadn’t been seen and hurried on.

I didn’t necessarily walk away with a lighter heart or a lighter step.  I was not enveloped in a blanket of love and happiness.  I did not expect to return to our apartment and find that in the hour that I had been gone all of my family’s problems had disappeared and all the stress that had been my constant companion had flown away on the wind.  I really had no idea how I should feel after my petition to the Dijon icon or what would signal me that my prayers had been answered.  I do know that our family dinner that night at a bistro on Place de la Libération served up a good dose of conversation and laughter.  And that night for the first time I heard the sound of an owl hooting in Dijon.

Because everyone I had considered tagging in this game I found was already playing, I’m not going to list 7 more.  Instead I challenge any of my readers who haven’t yet been tagged to take up the game on your own.  Search your own writing through this tiny frame and share what you find.  Post it in the comments box or post it on your own blog site and give us the link.  Tantalize us with a snippet of your story.

Finally, I’m ending the week with a bit of this and that news-you-can-use.
-- There seems to be a new trend of employers asking you for your Facebook password before they will hire you.  In a word – DON’T.  Find out more here.

-- For my writer friends wondering about how to claim writing expenses and how to get the IRS to see your writing as a legitimate business and not a hobby, Writer’s Relief has a good starting point for you.

-- It’s time to pull out your pruning shears.   Margaret Roach, writer of the memoir and I shall have some peace there, has some good answers to the FAQs of novice gardeners on her blog, A Way to Garden.

-- If you are a fan of Frank McCourt and Angela’s Ashes, you have to listen to this NPR interview.  Diane Rehms talked with authors and critics about why his story is so enthralling and why so many people thought he had made up the whole thing when it first came out.

Share your comments about anything in the post, share a picture of your puppy, share your writing, or share any links of helpful/entertaining news.  The comments box is waiting for you.  Have a good weekend.

Read the story behind this little fellow here

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How Does Our Garden Grow?

The French are serious about not walking on the grass, ever

As much as I like France, I’m not a fan of their gardening philosophy of everything manicured within an inch of their lives, “keep off the grass” signs everywhere, everything for show – all order and balance.  They don’t invite me to take off my shoes, wiggle my toes, and set a spell.  They frequently treat the outdoors as an objet d’art rather than a place to relax and express myself.

I’m more a Gertrude Jekyll kind of gardener.  I like my Russian sage intertwining with my daylilies and my grape hyacinths and daffodils coming up anywhere they please.  I have a certain set of borders they stay behind and I have to watch for the tipping point when one plant might take advantage of the space of a less aggressive one, and I like a general color scheme, e.g. pastels with a well-placed bright red or purple adding a bit of spice – or even the opposite with hot colors and the pastels to soften.

Chateaux gardens rarely tempt me to come closer than this
While a French formal garden can sedate me, the controlled chaos of a Jekyll cottage garden excites me to new possibilities.  When I see a patch of golden coreopsis thriving in an unexpected place, instead of ripping it out because that’s not where it was supposed to be, I immediately want to figure out what else I can plant there to show off all the blooms in their best light. That’s how I like the country I live in, too.  I love a mélange, a mix of cultures.  It’s possible to embrace the world without leaving the borders of the United States.

Last week I was in Sparta, GA (more about that in a later post) and found, even that deep in the South, Main Street had a Chinese take-out restaurant next to a BBQ rib joint.  Yet this has been a week that has caused me to shake my head at so many instances making me feel this country is putting up more “pelouse interdite” signs.

First, during a March Madness game spectators shouted out “Where’s your green card?” to a Puerto Rican player on the free-throw line.  Aside from just being rude, it also showed a distinct ignorance.  Quick, can anyone tell me why you don’t need a passport to take your spring break in Puerto Rico?  It’s a commonwealth country of the United States (bonus points if you can name the other commonwealths and territories, in other words colonies, of the U.S.*).  But even if the player were an immigrant from Zimbabwe, why would it be a source for taunting?
At least they said "please" this time

These spectators could have gotten the idea from Republican primary candidate Rick Santorum, who showed his own lack of knowledge regarding American history and law in an interview with a Puerto Rican journalist.  His demand that all citizens of that country learn English before it could become a full-fledged US state ignored the fact that there is no federal law that mandates English as the national language.  (And the fact that he uses a quotation in Latin to support his English-only argument?  Well, I won’t even go there or my rant could last for pages and pages.)

The absence of a federal law doesn’t stop many states – including my own – from trying to pass as many language and citizen litmus laws as possible.  My state legislature wants driver’s license tests to be available only in English.  The State Highway Patrol, by the way, is against this for many reasons, not the least of which is that they think the roads are safer if everyone knows the rules and has a proper driver’s license, even if the agency has to make language accommodations for the test.  Clearly the people who made this law are not the sort of people who would ever find themselves being offered a job in a foreign country (like France, par example) where driver’s tests are given in only one language and it isn’t yours.  They have not felt the sting of discrimination.

Is America really becoming a “keep off the grass” kind of country?

As a traveler I want to experience the world, but I want the world to be kind to me and welcome me.  I don’t expect them to bend over backward to accommodate me every step of the way or completely alter their culture to make it more to my liking (although it would be nice if France had a bit more ethnic food offerings in the grocery store than El Paso taco shells and sauce, and had free refills on soda at restaurants, and offered more than two ice cubes per glass).   For the most part, I only want to feel human warmth. I want to feel accepted and not like a “weed” that blights their garden.

So when you head out to your yard to do some spring pruning and head to your local gardening shop to pick up some flats of pansies, imagine how dull it would look if all it had were boxwoods lined up in perfect formation.

(*If you want to learn more about U.S. “colonies,” go here.)

What will your garden look like this spring?  Are you a formal garden kind of person or more the cottage garden kind?  Have you ever been made to feel like a “weed” in a place to which you traveled?  Share all your gardening and traveling tales in the comments box.

The redeeming French gardening habit -- an obsession with red geraniums

Friday, March 16, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion and Other Gold Stars

The photo that launched my award-winning story

When I was busy following my passion around Chicago a couple of weeks ago, my inbox got even more full than usual.  That meant I didn’t even see until almost midnight on the Monday after I got home an e-mail informing me that I wasn’t absolutely insane for believing that I could possibly be a writer.  Well, more to the point it was an e-mail from the intrepid Larry Habegger of (the group of folks who put out the fantastic collection of Travelers’ Tales books) saying the list of winners from the 6th Annual Solas Awards had been posted.

Now is the time for that shameless self-promotion.

I won Best in Category for my Travel and Shopping tale about my first attempt at trying to buy a dress in France when my French was very bad and the salesman was very, very good.  Hop on over to their site and read my story here.  Leave a comment there.  If my story does end up in one of their travel story books, I’ll let you all know so you can buy a dozen copies a piece. This recognition gives me great energy to keep writing and keep traveling and keep shooting for the Grand Prize.

(Of course, I was so flustered about winning that when they asked for a short bio I completely spaced out and forgot to include my blog url.  Duh.  Opportunity lost.  You see, I’m still not very good at this shameless self-promotion stuff.)

Let's hear it for some other writing this week worthy of gold stars:

Susan Bearman contributed a beautiful and thoughtful piece to Write It Sideways.  In “Finding Extraordinary in an Ordinary Life” she reminds us that everyone’s story is worth telling.  So many would-be writers believe they have nothing to say because their life has not been worthy of headlines or a center seat on the Dr. Drew Show.  For all of those out there waiting to claim their writer cap, chew on this:
“I’ve come to understand that extraordinary doesn’t exist without ordinary. And I’ve come to believe that it’s a writer’s job to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, to see the ordinary through the eyes of an artist and reflect the extraordinary back to our readers.”

(Come to think of it, we ALL could stand reminding that our lives aren’t that ordinary.)

Amber West tackles a common concern among those who write, for the most part, non-political blogs in “The Controversy Over Controversy.”  For those who regularly blog on political topics – or even those non-political writers who from a first blog post showed they were all over controversy, no matter the topic – it’s no big deal to take a very public stand on topics well beyond abuse of impossibly cute kittens.  How do the rest of the less controversial bloggers handle topics on which we feel compelled to make a statement, even though it might alienate some of our readers?  Read her take on this.

Becky Green Aaronson and her husband, photographer Jeffrey Aaronson have just published on e-reader Steve & i: One Photographer’s Improbable Journey with Steve Jobs.  Jeffrey Aaronson had an opportunity to photograph Jobs before he became a global turtlenecked technology icon.  Becky has told the story before on her blog, but now the whole story and the pictures are available for all.  If you don’t have an e-reader, you can also download it to your computer.  The the story, the writing, and the photography are remarkable.

Who have I missed that you think deserves a gold star this week – your 6-year old, another blogger, an activist you support?  Tell us in the comments box so we can all give a cheer.

Another, less engaging, character found in the market

You can read another story about the charming vendor pictured at the top of this post in a story I wrote last summer.  He and his friends kept me entertained in the market all the month I was there.  Read all about Trois Beaux Garçons.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's Time For My Own Personal Spring Training (French-Style)

3/13/12-spring training1
Sights along the streets of Dijon, FR

Well folks, it’s that time of year.  No, not the madness that hits even the non-basketball fans every March.  No, not the season of green beer.  Not the season of daffodils and dogwoods.  It’s that time of year that I start panicking that I will not be able to lose 50 lbs. before I head to Dijon, France this summer.

You don’t have to be fashion-obsessed to fall under the spell of French fashion.  And I’m not speaking of haut-couture here.  It’s just that on your first time over there you start to realize that even the toddlers chasing the pigeons are dressed better than you are.  You can’t walk twenty feet down a sidewalk without passing another shop window with the most graceful display of what the average Dijonnaise woman is wearing.  All of the sudden I need to shop.

3/13/12-spring training2

At home in the States, I won’t set foot in a mall or in the clothes section of a big-box discount store until I’m desperate.  Shopping is not a leisure activity for me.  It’s not a pleasurable activity.  Nothing appeals to me.  Nothing fits how I want it to fit.  The store displays are a crowded mess where I trip over racks, get lost in a maze of clothes, and elbow my way through the crowds and shopping carts at the checkout stand.

Even the hangers are perfectly arranged
3/13/12-spring training3

In Dijon, though, the clothes call out to me.  On market day their bright colors wave to me in the breeze.  Under the shade of a wide umbrella, perfectly arranged for ease of shopping, the clothes entice all who pass and there is always a stall vendor or store clerk to immediately find your exact size and hold your choices as you look for more.
3/13/12-spring training4

Everything you try on looks wonderful.  It’s made to fit a body with drape and darts and seams arranged to make the clothes comfortable and show off your best features instead of emphasize your worst.  They seem designed to fit a real, moving woman rather than a mannequin.  They flatter and make you immediately feel chic and like you must spend the afternoon sitting at a sidewalk café sipping tea.

Of course, there are a few questionable fashion picks I wouldn’t rush to buy (bows were really in last summer).
3/13/12 spring training5

To make it even better, when I show up in July it is one of France’s two “sales seasons” (January is the other).  Everywhere you turn you see giant SOLDES signs.  Each week in the month the discount gets deeper until the last week when you can shop for 70-80% off.

So who wouldn’t become shopping-obsessed under those conditions?

The problem for me, though, is that I may not fit into anything I see.  At home, the size I normally wear could best be described as the “smallest” size in stores and departments for “women” (read: “plus-size”).  Sometimes I can find something in a regular department that’s cut in a way that it feels comfortable on me.  However, I can’t ever depend on that size fitting me from store to store or brand to brand.  Because of the insane variations in stores criteria for sizing women’s clothes, I have to take three different sizes into the dressing room to find something that fits.  Shopping becomes a torture instead of a pleasure.

In France, however, no matter where I am I’m the same size.  Of course, the downside of that is frequently when I arrive in that country I’m at the largest size that is easily obtainable in your average French clothing store.  Hence, my March panic.

Every spring about this time, therefore, I take stock.  If I want to come home from France draped in this

I need to stop eating so much of this

Now excuse me, I’m off to put in my Brazilian Butt Lift DVD.  I need to sweat a little if I want to be able to fit into more than the scarves in France.

 Ready to shop yet?

Do you find clothes shopping a pleasure or pain? Why? What has been one of your favorite shopping experiences when on vacation and out of your comfort zone?  What is your favorite item to shop for (clothes or non-clothes)?  Share your shopping stories in the comments box.

How is it possible that I’ve never seen what 99 million other people have watched and laughed at until they cried?!  It’s pure genius.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jump In And Let It All Hang Out This Weekend

Country music singer/songwriter/guitar god Keith Urban in concert

Today I’m heading off to Nashville to see my man, guitar god Keith Urban, at the Grand Ole Opry and to meet up with some good friends.  There is laundry to do and packing and gathering of snacks for the drive.  While reviewing some blog ideas to work up for this post I ran through previous entries and discovered that fighting my midlife fears, as I talked about in the last post, seems to be a recurring theme for me.  So while I’m gone this weekend, read about other challenges I’ve set for myself in the past.  And I remind you – it’s not always about climbing Mt. Everest.
3/9/12-jump in2

As I finished walking Skyler around the lagoon and Grand Basin at Forest Park and was heading back to the car, my eye was caught by bright mango yellow shirts shooting into the air in a fit of randomness in the shade of tall oak trees.  Despite the July St. Louis heat, a group of grade school camp kids were all exhibiting their most energetic jumping jacks before hopping on their bikes for a spin around the park.

When did I stop jumping?  When was the last time that I flexed my knees and then propelled myself into the air like a rocket again and again?  Do I always have two feet planted firmly on the ground?  And why is that seen as a good thing?  I remember hot summer nights after dinner when all the kids in the neighborhood competed to see who could bounce the highest or the most times on our pogo stick.  Onetwothreefourfive . . . onehundredandfive . . .  We jumped without a moment’s thought to bad arches, or aching sacroiliac joints, or old knees.  We pogoed the length of our street and shot into the stratosphere with little concern for balance or control . . . (Read the full story and watch the video)

I’ve lived with a constant concern on laundry days that I would lose my underwear into the private courtyard two stories down and never be able to retrieve it.  If I did, I just hoped it was some of my new stuff that would show me in a good light.  At least the blue ones, something with color, and not the practical white Jockey ones.  French women are neither shy nor practical when it comes to what is underneath – just barely.

I’ve felt practically puritanical while in France because my foundation is both ecologically sound (made from quickly renewable bamboo fibers) and meant to cover and be covered.  Before leaving home I went shopping for a new bra with straps appropriate for wearing with the cut of tank top sleeves.  And the saleslady convinced me to choose the “nude” (ugly no-color) one because it would be invisible under light-colored tops. . .  (Read the full story)

What everyday challenges do you set for yourself?  Do you jump? Are you trying to be more daring with fashion?  Who's your favorite performer or what was your best concert?  Jump in and let it all hang out in the comments box and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Is My Passion? Outrunning Fear and Regret

Underneath the sculpture "Cloud Gate"  by Anish Kapoor at Millenium Park in Chicago.
The locals call it "the bean," as in "I'll wait for you at the bean." Our passions frequently
are as unfocused as our reflection under the sculpture.
What’s your passion?  How often do you get to surround yourself with the best of the best behind it?  How far do you go to pursue it?  This past weekend I took a step closer to my own when I flew to Chicago to attend the AWP Conference for writers and writing program directors.  (Of course, the actual traveling to the Windy City was not my passion if you read any of my tweets or Facebook posts from that fateful day.  It was an experience best never spoken of again.)

In this middle part of my life I’m changing courses, trying to return to the writing that had been such an essential part of my identity when I was young.  It got pushed to the periphery as more and more daily responsibilities claimed its space in my life.  One day the lid blew on the pressure cooker of adulthood and I pulled out a yellow legal pad and pen and started writing for survival.  It came in fits and starts because I had almost forgotten how to put one sentence after another on a page.

As I wrote, I read.  I started seeking out people who shared my rediscovered passion.  Yet something was missing because I hadn’t yet found that one thing that would push me to my A-game or focus my efforts.  Except for this blog, my writing stayed hidden because (if I’m being honest) not sharing it with the world meant I didn’t risk having it rejected.  No rain would ever fall on my parade if I didn’t leave my room.

Fear prevents many from mastering change in their lives or taking risks.  Joe Robinson, author of Don’t Miss Your Life, talks about this fear and its effects here.  We’re biologically conditioned since the days of the mastodons and saber-tooth tigers to live with fear as our default mode.  It’s that willingness to take risks, however, that turn us into explorers, inventors, and artists.  Or even simply to change our job or try waterskiing.  As Robinson points out “Fear is momentary; regrets are forever.”  We can pay for living with safety as a default mode with a life of boredom.

Embracing risk doesn’t mean we all need to thumb our noses at it by climbing Mt. McKinley next year.  For Robinson, even taking on a simmering passion like salsa dancing late in your life asks you to overcome fears, even if it is only the fear of looking foolish.  Last year, I wrote about how I was making a vow to open my arms wide to failure and gather it in.  With my writing, however, I stayed huddled in the back of my cave, hoping the wild beasts out there didn’t see me and eat me.

There’s an antidote to this fear.  According to Robinson, risk is about managing uncertainty.  The more you know about what you fear, the more prepared you are to take on this new challenge.  You don’t make your first race the Indianapolis 500.  What has scared you is no longer a threat as you learn more; it becomes an act of exploration and actually changes your memory of that fear.  “Each time you recall a memory and add or subtract from it, you are defanging the initial fear,” Robinson says.

So I took on my fear of actually calling myself a writer and leading a writing life.  When Annette Gendler, a writer and teacher of writing I had met through an online class, said, “Come to Chicago.  There will be lots of writers.  It will be good.”  I took her up on it. I put my money down and committed to wading through the waves of 8000 people I didn’t know to see what life was like among those who dared to call themselves “writers.”

I came, I saw, I was invigorated by the passion of all of these people following my same passion.  I met and talked to people who were where I want to be.  I began to understand the steps I needed to take to walk the writing path.  It was like reaching the top of my first mountain.  Robinson says of achieving an initial goal, “There's an extra incentive of bagging a ‘first,’ a distinction we can use to turn the discomfort of doing something new to its flip-side: excitement.”  He doesn’t tell us how to maintain the momentum, but it probably involves keeping alive this new memory of success rather than the older, more entrenched memory of fear.

And maybe each week I can ask myself what will be my “first” that week – my first submission, my first new piece I start writing that week, the first time I make it around the park on my bike without pushing it up any of the hills.  Salsa dancing or yoga may not be mountain climbing or hang gliding, but we’re all capable of outrunning fear and regret.  Notch a “first” on your belt before the month is out.

Did you start following a passion later in your life?  What was the trigger that made you get up off the couch and say “I’m going to do that”?  What “first” do you want to bag?  Share your fears and your risks and your passions in the comments box and get us fired up to do something new and exciting ourselves.

The Chicago skyline reflected in "the bean."  You can see my reflection, too, taking the photo.
Related Posts with Thumbnails