Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Assignment: Select a word and write a 200 word essay surrounding it

Friendship is the cornerstone for all other worthwhile relationships. Romantic love cannot survive without it. Parental love should aspire to it. There is no aspect of life that doesn't benefit from an infusion of friendship. In the workplace it provides synergy. In families it promotes harmony. In communities it builds bridges.

I am blessed with a variety of friendships. They come in all 31 flavors – complete with nuts.

I am proud to call Karen my friend. She is 20 years my junior and is navigating her way through motherhood, life in a new city and the non-stop cycle of parents and in-laws visiting their first grandchild. She is worried about fitting into her new community, being supportive to her husband, being a good mother to her son and being out of the job market. Amidst all of this she talks by phone to me every week because she also worries about my minor dramas. She, more than anyone, encourages me to write and believes I can do anything. I don't know why she worries about parenting her new son, she is already parenting me.

Friendship is selfless acceptance, support, compassion, love and respect. It comes in stages and waves. It takes many forms and comes to you in unexpected ways. Karen embodies friendship to me.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Assignment: 200 words or less using the phrase "true success can be.."
She had been preparing her whole adult life for her definition of success. She sacrificed family, friends and relationships for fame, fortune and investments. She didn’t need neighbors or community she had clients and competitors. She didn’t seek love she sought domination in her field. She didn’t want a vacation because she had nowhere to go that her career couldn’t take her and no one to share it with anyway.

She didn’t just break through the glass ceiling she smashed it. She had her success. She thought fondly back to her first board meeting as chairperson, “Thank-you for coming,” she had begun. What an unnecessary statement. The board members had very little choice. She called the shots. She didn’t care what they thought as long as they served her purpose.

She was such a tightly wrapped type A personality that it came as no surprise when a stroke took her down.

And now, in a hospital room completely devoid of flowers, cards or visitors, unable to communicate with no chance of recovery it dawned on her that true success was more elusive than she planned. “Thank-you for coming,” she thought. What an unnecessary statement.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Coming to the Rescue

I was voted the least likely member of my family to bond with a pet. The dogs we had as kids were always Mom’s dogs. We could pet, play with or ignore them as the situation suited us.

Typical of my personality I made a fairly calculated choice when the time came to honor my promise to my son and get a dog. I had known people who had adopted retired racers and I read Cynthia A. Branigan’s, “Adopting the Racing Greyhound.” I knew they came housebroken, didn’t bark much and didn’t require a lot of exercise (they are the world’s most ardent couch potatoes) I learned that they socialized best with older children, walked well on a leash and were completely dedicated to their families. As dog choices went, this was ideal for us.

Ariel came into my life when she was ten by way of another family who had to give her up due to a move. That’s about two years shy of an ex-racer’s life expectancy. She had the athletic build of a racer and the most sensitive soft deep brown eyes with eyeliner markings that gave her an exotic look. She actually looked more like a German Shepard than a purebred greyhound. She was a little beefy (probably how I would be built if I was a greyhound) and loved to eat (ditto). And, she knew exactly how to tilt her head and flirt for the camera (I haven’t mastered that one yet). Her coat was a beautiful caramel shade with a soft rabbit fur like quality. She would try to put herself into the leash when it was walk time. She was timid with strangers. She had a habit of putting a piece of furniture between her and other people. She barked when the doorbell rang and moaned to the rhythm of a siren. The first time I heard her I thought it was the neighbor’s lawnmower. She was sedate indoors but came to life outside and loved to play tag with my son. She was smart and needed a project to occupy her when she was left alone or she would help herself to my books and literally devour them.

I fell immediately in love with her when I saw her picture on the Greyhound Adoption website. I needed a companion for my first greyhound. Ariel died about two and a half years ago. She went out fighting and endured several strokes and seizures one day before the vet helped me ease her out of her misery. It was a relatively easy decision because she was suffering but it was a gut wrenching experience. It took me well over a year to complete the grieving process for her. I still miss her and even writing this piece is painful.

Kristi is my first. She is with me today. She has the same coloring as Ariel but the similarities end there. She has a petite build and a silky coat. She can eat or not eat. She is completely devoted to me. She loves people and will approach them so that they have an opportunity to pet and adore her as she feels she deserves. She expends most of her energy bounding around and tossing her stuffies at the prospect of going for a walk. (stuffies are the small stuffed animals that greyhounds are given as pups to prepare them for the big “race.”)

My son was 14 when we got Kristi. He will be 23 this month and has moved out. Kristi and I share the remaining empty nest. Her beautiful face is more white than fawn and her legs wobble when she climbs the stairs. She doesn’t walk as far or as fast as she used to but she still does a little dance and throws her stuffies around when it’s time for a walk or a ride in the car. I expect when her time comes to leave me she will go out in her sleep like the little lady she is. Even in that respect she will be completely different from Ariel.

I knew I was doing a good thing when I adopted Kristi and Ariel. I knew it was good for them and I knew it was good for my son. I just didn’t know how good it was for me.

I am a better person by having pets in my adult life. I am more compassionate towards living things in general and particularly those humans who choose to share their life with a pet. I understand how someone can grieve long and hard for a lost pet and I appreciate how those pets can ease the transitions we humans are expected to bear. And all this time I thought I was rescuing them.

Monday, September 03, 2007

When my 10+ year relationship went south I initially felt lost and alone (among other less attractive emotions). Much of my day to day life had been centered on “us things” and, more often than not, “him things.” This was not entirely his fault. He may have relished the emphasis on him but I allowed the relationship to develop in that way. So, with him went the business associates (his), church community (his) and any “couple friends” we had made. In short, he got custody of our history. I had even moved from my community (only the next county over) to be geographically closer. This was supposed to be the next logical step. If we could make it work living in the same county then we would start making plans to be married (10 years - you can’t rush these things). So I went from a 7 minute commute to a 30 minute commute to a job I wasn’t particularly wild about anyway. (I mean, one of the few things it had going for it was the close proximity to my home).

I have wonderful, supportive family and friends but my compass suddenly disappeared and it took me a while to get my footing again. I started making phone calls and “circling the wagons.” I opted to attempt to take the “high road” and not spend hours upon hours vilifying My X or ruminating about the development of our relationship (although I have to admit, I did plenty of both in my head). Instead, I focused on reconnecting – finding out what they were doing, what they needed, what we could do together. Most of my friends didn’t know My X well because he didn’t make an effort to get to know them (see, sometimes I do veer off the high road into a ditch) so they didn’t miss him at all and certainly weren’t interested in hearing how I wanted him back. My family and friends rallied and I began to re-build my own life.

I’m not sure what the exact recovery time will be on a 10+ year relationship that never got beyond the dating phase. A year seems too long and I know two months isn’t long enough. But I am starting to regain my equilibrium. I have a strategy on the job front. I love the little condo I purchased so I will most likely make this new community mine over time. I plan to volunteer, serve on my neighborhood association board, continue the piano lessons I started earlier this year and reclaim my confidence.

But here’s the very best part. In the midst of all of this stuff, way down deep I kept hearing a little voice telling me I could be a writer. Maybe not a great American novelist but someone who expresses ideas in words that other people might be drawn to read. Initially I thought this was rational for dumping a tedious 8 to 5 “day job” – an escape fantasy. But I stumbled on an on-line creative writing class just after the “big breakup” that challenged me to write creatively and post to a discussion board for others to read. The instructor and students then provide positive feedback and support to each other. This experience has been a huge confidence builder. But, more importantly, I started to enjoy writing and I liked what I produced. And, I’m beginning to feel that being a writer isn’t as much a fantasy as it is a goal. The scary part is I know I wouldn’t have gotten here had I not lost my relationship.

Today I discovered that if I had to make a choice between regaining My X and writing for a living I would choose to write. Maybe two months is the right recovery time after all.
Writing Exercise - Lesson 6
Assignment: Write based on another source such as a newspaper article, etc.

I recently picked up a used copy of Elaine St. James’ book, Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter. I love the idea of simplifying my life and I’ve been taking steps in that direction for over a year now – even before I read her book. It was a gratifying to see that I had already put some of her suggestions to use. I had reduced clutter (#1), stopped buying clothes that need to be dry cleaned (#9), and moved to a smaller house (#19). I had found a kindred spirit here.

There is, however, one area in which I take issue with Ms. St. James. Way down the list in a category marked “Special Issues for Women” she suggests that in order to reduce the complexity of your wardrobe you should make certain that all the shoes in your closet are the same (lower) heel height (#91). I know she’s right. She makes a great case for comfort, flexibility and the overall health of your feet in the long run. But this I cannot do.

I’m no Imelda Marcos but I have a healthy collection of shoes. We are best friends. I tuck them neatly away in safe see through containers and they are always there for me for job interviews, business meetings, weddings, funerals, Christmas parties and romantic dinner dates. They stay with me even when I lose or gain weight.

I have a fair representation of no-heel shoes. I have athletic shoes, hiking shoes (hardly ever used), winter boots, slippers and beach shoes and they are comfortable and functional. But in a sacred corner of my closet I also have cute two and three inch heeled summer sandals, two inch pumps, fashion boots and (drum role please) four inch stilettos. How could I ever choose between them?

I have a desk job in a small office so I can still pull off the high heels. Even among my younger, trendier female co-workers I have a legendary assortment. Two years ago I pulled a calf muscle on an elliptical machine (that contraction that blends treadmill and stair stepper workouts - don’t even get me started on the dangers of exercise) while I was wearing my very practical athletic shoes I might add. Anyway, I was “grounded” for several weeks while the muscle healed (no pun intended). My co-workers had no idea how short I was until I showed up in flats. I felt like I was standing in a hole.

You can dress up or down that little black dress by the style and heel height of your shoes. I enjoy my shoes and the wardrobe variety they provide. So with a respectful nod to Ms. St. James, I will retain this complex portion of my life a little longer.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Writing Exercise - Lesson 4
Assignment: Choose a color to write about; write about the color in the first person, that is in the I way.

I am romantic Caribbean sunsets.

I smolder in candlelit jazz clubs and present the sun-softened finish on buildings deep in the French Quarter.

I am variegated in mums and marigolds but in roses I am desire and afterglow.

I nurture you with luscious peaches, succulent apricots and the flesh of butternut squash.

I offer you the Mackinac Bridge in silhouette on a summer evening.

I cast sparks and illuminate the night with embers in a winter fireplace.

I am warm, radiant, luminous and flush - orange.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Writing Exercise - Lesson 2
Assignment: Write a short story using one of the provided sentences

Mary was "fed up" with Bob and he had only just arrived. He walked in as if he was some kind of superhero. But instead of an "S" on his chest he had "Bob" embroidered on his work shirt.

"Where's the culprit?" he demanded.

"In the fireplace" she responded begrudgingly. What was she thinking when she bought this 100 year old money pit of a house? Now, hardly a month into ownership she had an unwelcome housemate. While cleaning the glass doors of the fireplace – a fireplace she dearly loved and hadn't even used yet – she discovered a squirrel settling in for a stay. He wasn't going to exit the same way he entered so she called animal control. And they sent her super Bob.

Bob dropped his bundle on the living room floor and began to gear up for his task. Mary looked on as he donned hip waders, heavy duty gloves and a mask. Was he hunting squirrel or playing goalie for the Blackhawks?

"Go get yourself a broom" he directed. Probably the only way he recognizes a woman is if she's holding a broom, she thought. While she fetched the broom Bob moved her dining table and chair away from the sliding glass doors to the left of the fireplace. He moved the couch and chair off to the right barricading the front door. He then positioned Mary in front of the staircase with the broom."Now," he said opening the sliding glass door, "when I open the fireplace doors with this pole the critter should make for the nearest, most obvious exit – right through these doors. If he comes your way, just wave the broom to redirect him."

"Whoa!" Mary suddenly decided compliance was overrated. "You're standing there dressed like a Star Wars storm trooper with a ten foot pole and all you're going to do is open the doors? Where's my hip waders, my gloves, my squirrel gear?"

Bob smiled indulgently. "Miss, I'm a professional. I know what I'm doing."

Well, she thought. Once I deal with the squirrel I'm going to use what's left of this broom to beat the snot out of Bob.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I’ve recently come out of a 10 year relationship. That’s not exactly right. I’ve recently been booted out of a 10 year, 8 month, 5 day relationship. Never mind the details. Getting dumped is getting dumped no matter how you dress it up.

I’m working through the recovery process. In matters of the heart forget the typical five stages of grieving (denial, depression, anger, bargaining and acceptance). My theory is that you can gauge your healing process by the content of your fantasies.

Initially I envisioned my heart’s desire finding me walking the wind swept cliffs of New England. As I turn and the wind swirls my skirts he approaches me determined to reclaim his paramour ala Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. He sweeps me into his arms and professes his never ending love and desire for yours truly. Never mind that I live in Indiana and the closest things we have to wind swept cliffs are guardrails on the interstate. Disregard that my lost man is an accountant. The only time he becomes a tortured soul is at tax time.

Later, as incremental doses of reality and sanity seep back into my psyche, I begin to daydream about a benign crisis that throws us together. In a plot torn from the script of Twister my leading man realizes that it’s me he wants instead of the gorgeous gal pal fading into the background. At first, I resist and make him atone for his lapse in judgment but, eventually, I surrender.

Further into the process I begin to create my fantasies in more reasonable settings. After settling into a comfortable platonic friendship my former love asks me to accompany him to a business associate’s company Christmas party. He is smitten by my new self confidence, my size 6 frame and form (hey – it’s still my fantasy!) and the familiarity of my perfume. As the evening progresses he calculates the risk and asks me to dance. We have a wonderful evening. He drives me home, walks me to the door and kisses me goodnight. As he walks toward his vehicle he turns on his heel and returns to me. His next kiss promises everything except “goodnight.”

And finally, at his funeral I am picked up by one of the guests.

I suppose the ultimate recovery signal will be when I wake up, proceed with my day into the evening and finally to bed without thinking about him every hour. When my mind no longer constructs scenarios that keep him in my life; when thinking about a life without him doesn’t seem quite so bleak, then I will know that I have completed the process. Clearly, I’m not there yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Meet Kristi

She's beautiful, sweet, loving, mischievous.....she raced, won and retired. She came to me 9 years ago. She changed my life. I thought I was rescuing her...She rescued me.