Two Days Late…And Six Months Behind

I’m two days late…no, not that kind of late! You probably noticed I missed posting on my regularly scheduled Wednesday. Oops and apologies!

IMG_1460Late last summer, our youngest bought a farm. It was almost everything he wanted. Two big sheds. A barn. A double-wide heated garage. And a house that needed only minor work.

Except when we moved in to paint the house, we found a few issues, uncovered them, fixed them, then found a few more. And on and on it’s gone.

During the fall and winter, in our spare time, we stripped the house to the outer walls, so all that was left was the shell, then we began the interior remodeling: proper insulation, stripping out old and often questionable electrical wires, moving interior walls around to make the kitchen and bathroom bigger, etc.

This week, the demo is over. We all took the week off from work (although I did sneak in some writing time on the trips to the farm in the morning) and began to replace the electrical wire.

Although we built our last two houses, we always had someone else do the electrical work for us. So this is the first time I’ve ever pulled wire through a house and it was really cool. Hard, exhausting, and a great workout for the shoulders and upper arms and back, but still really cool.

So today is the final day for electrical work. Then our youngest calls the electrical inspector who will come to check to make sure the work meets code (does anyone watch Mike Holmes?!). And then it’s on to laying the sub-floor.

What did you do with your week?

Lessons from the Dead

In the last two weeks, I’ve sadly attended two funerals. One funeral was for a man who died too young, and another for a woman who’d led a long and fruitful life. Each funeral was unique in their own way, and very representative of the person who’s life we were celebrating. Both funerals got me thinking…4501995215_f41115b42c

As someone who’d rather face a firing squad than speak in public, I’m always amazed at the way some people so eloquently expound on someone’s life and capture the essence of the person in a way that makes attendees both laugh and cry. Speaking at a funeral takes guts, heart, and a deep appreciation for the person being eulogized–the kind of appreciation born of a close relationship.

We moved a lot when I was younger, and our last move was the summer before I started high school. Angry and churlish as only a teenager could be, I refused to make friends I’d have to leave in a few years when I just knew we’d move again. Needless to say, I spent four very long years doubling down on my philosophy while wallowing in loneliness. And my parents never moved again!

Do I go to reunions? Nope. Do I keep in touch with anyone from high school? Not at all. Do I regret my behavior? You betcha! Why am I confessing this awkward and pathetic truth? Because I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to break the habit I formed in high school of closing myself off to others.

But try I must, and the funerals I attended are a testament to why. Life is about relationships–living, breathing, messy, ugly, sometimes hurtful relationships. My first instinct when meeting someone new is to size them up and figure out if they are worth investing my time, and that’s just sad. Everyone has worth, even the folks who share too much, drink too much, cry too much, care too much, volunteer too much, love too much, hover too much, and seem to be a total train wreck. Seriously, who am I to judge?

The last two weeks were a good reminder to live a little, get out of my house, meet new people, try new things, and take more chances. Because life is short, no matter how long we live.

photo credit: only sleeping via photopin (license)

Where Have All the Role Models Gone?

I remember a summer day ten years ago when my sports fanatic son declined going to the pool with his friends so he could watch the final stage of the Tour de France.  He was fixated on his new idol, Lance Armstrong.  So fixated, in fact, that immediately after Armstrong won, my son begged me to take him to the Discovery Channel Store so he could spend a hundred dollars of his lawn mowing money on a replica of the yellow jersey Armstrong wore during much of the Tour de France that year.

My son even wore it as his Halloween costume.

My son even wore it as his Halloween costume.

This was a very big deal because, not only has my son always been a sports nut, but he loves his money, too.  So it took a lot for him to part with his hard earned cash.  But his father and I let him do it because we believed at the time that Lance Armstrong was a pretty worthy role model for a twelve-year-old boy.  Little did we know.

Now here’s the funny (or sad, depending upon your perspective) part:  Armstrong’s fall from grace didn’t traumatize my son as much as I would have thought.  By that time, my teenager had already been jaded to the duplicity of the world of professional sports.  Everybody does it has become a catch phrase that really angers me.  Too many Millennials and Gen-Xers (or Y’s or whatever they are) adopt the phrase as a mantra.

Sure, the list of role models who turn out to be more human than super hero is long:  Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Shaun White and Hope Solo, to name a few.  But there have to be some role models out there, right?  Surely the Kardashians aren’t who we want our children looking up to?  And I’m not even going to suggest they should look up to elected officials who refuse to lead.brian williams

And then there’s Brian Williams.  I have to admit this one is a lot harder to swallow than some of the others.  He’s a likeable guy in a business that I was once a part of.  Because I still consider myself a journalist, the offense of “misrepresenting the facts” really sticks in my craw.  I’m not saying we should hold journalists in esteem higher than others–hello Steve Kroft and Dan Rather, not to mention an entire cable news channel–but, hey, we just can’t go making things up.  Well, unless you write fiction like I do, but that’s not the business Brian Williams was in.  At least not yet, anyway.

This whole mess has left with me a sense of melancholy, especially as a parent.  Who are kids supposed to look up to these days?  My motives are purely selfish here.  It’s a lot of pressure to be the only role-model for your child–especially since they think you’re dumber than dirt for a majority of their life.  Of course, we could all go around adopting the philosophy of Dr. Greg House from TV’s House and submit to the tenet that “everybody lies”.

Photo by Jackolyn

Photo by Jackolyn

I don’t want to be a cynic, though.  I want to believe in the good within people.  That’s why I write romance, because I want to read a happily ever after.  I want role models who are worthy.  And not just for my kids.

But I also subscribe to the notion that we are all human.  We all make mistakes.  It’s how we move on after those mistakes that shows our character.  So no, A-Rod, a hand written “I’m sorry” isn’t going to cut it with me.  And Lance, having your girlfriend lie for you is just unmanly.  It’s left to you, Brian. Please don’t let me down.

Art as a Mirror

Woman gazing into a mirror

Photo by Anna Yakimova, courtesy 123RF.com

When you read book reviews, it becomes obvious how widely varied people’s perceptions are of the same piece of literature. Differing tastes and interests are one reason. But on a deeper level, creative writing is the most subjective of art forms. It’s a collaborative process. Authors invite readers to use their imaginations to help tell the story.

Authors don’t have paints or charcoals. We don’t have trumpets or tambourines. We create sights, sounds and tastes through words, and rely on readers to fill in the gaps.

It’s an incredibly intimate relationship, which is one reason people lose themselves in books and feel like they know the author as a trusted friend. But in many ways, it’s an illusion.

Authors write about universal experiences, things we’ve all felt but were never able to put into words. They may capture an experience that makes you feel known for the first time, or that makes you feel as if you finally know yourself.

But authors write about specific and strange things, too. They write about experiences that push us out of our comfort zone. Fiction can be scary and disturbing. It can generate strong visceral reactions. We want to turn away in horror, but we keep reading because we simply must know what happens next.

Readers generally attribute the strong feelings they experience to the book, but in fact, those feelings are just as likely to be the product of the readers’ imaginations, to the associations and memories that the book conjures in their own minds. Even smart, careful readers can believe that something is in the text that isn’t actually there.

So I caution you, when you hear someone rage that a hero in a novel is abusive toward the heroine—and they know, because they were once in a relationship just like that—to question whether the rage comes from the text or from the reader’s own real-life experience. Or if the reader effuses over the rich descriptions of the Tuscan countryside, which reminded her so much of her trip to Italy last year, to wonder whether she was relying on her own memories more than what the author wrote.

No two readers ever read the same book. And we ourselves, when we reread a novel, will see things in it we never saw before. That’s the nature of literature. That’s also why it’s important for us to be tolerant of those whose experiences of a novel differ from our own. Even if their interpretation is demonstrably false based on the text, their experience was very real. They will never be talked out of it, so there’s no point in trying. Instead, appreciate what their reading of the story teaches us about humanity. Celebrate the richness of reading and the magic of books.

Have you ever read a book review that sounded like a completely different novel than what you read? 

Escape

Know any young women preparing to marry?  Have you talked to them, given your counsel, any words of advice? Me?  I’m not allowed to talk to brides anymore. Nope.  Lost that privilege.

Why, you ask?  Why would an author like me who’s more than willing to share her experience with the younger crowd be banished from the discussion?

Quite simple, really. Last time someone asked my opinion, I jokingly compared marriage to eating vegetables. I am a gardener, after all.  Makes sense my analogies would run through the produce aisle.  “Marriage is easy,” I said.  “It’s like choosing your favorite vegetable—the one you want to enjoy ALL the time.”

She screwed her expression.  “There’s no vegetable I want to eat ALL the time.  I like variety in my diet!”

watermelon

So much for analogies.  I like variety in mine, too.  “Yes, but there’s more than one way to cook a tomato—healthy and raw, chopped and marinated, sizzling fried, saucy and delicious!”  Yes, well…you get the point.  Mixing it up helps prevent same-old same-old from settling in, much like we moms do with dinner.

“Potatoes, again?” the children whine.  “Can’t we have something different?”

Nope.  We married a potato, we’re having potatoes.  Period.  “Now go put your ‘right attitude cap’ on and enjoy the meal.”

Granted, marriage is more involved, but truthfully, it comes down to commitment.  And a sense of humor.

The young woman continued to peer at me, as though expecting some kind of brilliance to erupt.

woman pulling hair out_XSmall

Okay, let’s try this a different way:  Careful what you wish for—you just might get it.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m a big fan of the institution.  Married for twelve years and two kids, I love marriage, but there’s one thing you need to know before you get married, if you expect any sort of success.  “Marriage is hard work.  If you accept that going in,” I told her, “you’re good to go for the long haul.”

“Oh,” she returned, somewhat discouraged.

Apparently, this wasn’t the insight she expected.  But ever the positive one, I linked my arm through my husband’s and added, “Not to worry.  Look how happy we are!”

My husband sweetly agreed.  “Yeah, what she said.”

He’s a real card, isn’t he?

The lovely young couple left us but the woman returned a short while later.  Courageous little thing.  “But is there really a difference between living together and marriage?” she asked, her tone urging better news.  Seems they’ve been living together for that last couple of years and she believed this to be key to their ultimate success.  “It can’t be that different, can it?”

Uh, oh.  She forgot the “careful what you wish for” rule.  But she asked, so I smiled again (it’s always best to deliver hard facts with a soft edge) and replied“Here’s the difference:  When you’re living together, you always have that back door – the exit door – as in, ‘if he doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, I’m outta here.’  You can always leave if he’s not living up to your expectations.”  I leaned ever so closer.  “When you’re married, you have to close that door, lock it, and throw away the key.”

Her jaw dropped.

“It’s a shift in attitude.  You must be willing to work through the hard times, you know, like you do with family.  We all have those members with whom we don’t see eye to eye, may even go without speaking at times, but eventually, we come back together — because it’s family.  They’re not going anywhere.  You’ll see them at Christmas.”

sunflower burst

She nodded dully, but I could see this was not what she wanted to hear.  “Do you want kids?”  She shook her head to the contrary.  “Then continue dating,” I advised.  “There’s no need to change your name.”  You’ve already changed your address.

Take heart. While marriage can be tough, it does give provide reason for that romance novel addiction we have. Escape is good. Really good. Why, I’m pondering where to go for spring break this very moment!

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