Sunday, March 26, 2017

You only have one of you


I don't know who said this but we
could be friends.

The writer Anne Lamott says about inner critics: “Quieting these voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent.”

Inner critics are a universal problem among writers; one of my inner critics was in my office before I got there the other day to remind me that 85% of the agents I submitted my novel to a couple of years ago, said "No."

"I wasn't sure you remembered that," said my inner critic.

When my kids were  younger, and they were leaving to go back to school, or away on a trip, or to the store for hot sauce, I used to say: "Be careful out there. I only have one of you."

Be careful out there. You only have one of you.

Be careful when you talk to yourself in reproachful, doubtful, reprimanding ways. Be careful when you feel small next to the fortune of others, or pummeled by fate, or unable to see past obstacles. Remember that while you have an inner critic, you also have an inner butler-defender who carries your tray of weapons: grace, resilience and your good glasses. 

Life is hard enough, already.
Don't make it harder.

You may not need more.
You may have enough, already.

You probably don't need attention.
You may just need to like your own company more.

Life is hard enough, already.
Don't make it harder.

Our libraries of intuition and instincts grow more powerful by the day
Learn to trust your own judgment.

We are more likable when we are being who we are without explaining.
Don't try to organize what others think of you.

We make it about avoiding mistakes, but we forget:
Normal life requires we understand the flaws in order to enjoy the improvements

We want to look back on a perfect present in the perfect future, but we forget:
It is not possible to do or know all the things we'll wish we did or knew in hindsight.

We shape and knead life, like bread dough until it looks like we want it to, but we forget:
We can't live inside a life we've put on display, we can only stand to the side of it.

You only have one of you. Be who you are.
Notice the things you are, that you once wished you could be. 
Know when it's enough, already.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yelp responsibly

These are stars, also known as weapons.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. 
In our small community, where everyone knows each other or at least has stood in the same grocery line, opportunities to gossip are everywhere. But most of us understand where that line lies. Most of us know that a slanderous word can make an outcast of a regular person. 
One of our regular people is Bill, a server in his mid-fifties who specializes in fine dining. 
It's a challenge for high-end restaurants to stay in this area. We're fussy. We're close enough to other towns with excellent restaurants to be impatient. Word of mouth goes a long way.  I've seen great places leave just when you thought everything was fine.    
Bill has worked in all of them. For years, he worked in more than one at a time. 
I met Bill fifteen years ago, when he was a shipping associate at a Mailbox store. I was mailing my manuscript to an agent for the first time and he was at the counter. 
It was the most important thing I'd ever done as a writer and I was nervous. When Bill learned of the contents, he called an associate over to cover him and motioned me to the "other counter" for special attention. Then, he took over. We would want to be sure it was signed for, we would want the packaging to be weatherproof, we would want the name of the agent prominently displayed. 
Was I put off by this? Of course not.  I was touched by a stranger's wish to lend expertise to something that was important to another stranger. 
After Bill moved on to serving, and I moved on in my writing career, he still asked how the book was doing as he filled my water glass. 
Bill is self-styled; a host as much as a server. He's a learned food and wine expert and will educate you too, if you let him. He banters with his customers and remembers the entrees they love. His wine suggestions have become my favorites. He knows your favorite table and puts you there when you forget to ask for it. 
A month ago, our newest nice restaurant opened.  
Our fingers are crossed because only one month in, it's wonderful.  The dress is whatever-you're-wearing-right-now, the fare is upscale. The decor is warm and chic, the lighting is perfect, the music is right, it has copper table tops, and it is staffed by servers who have worked with the owner for a long time, including Bill. 
Only weeks after it opened, its Facebook page glowed with praise. Yelp reviews cheered its start. Wonderful! Loved it! Can't wait to come back! Not a single review criticized the food, the wine, the wait. But one, a blistering one, attacked Bill. 
Leaving one star, the reviewer shared that Bill had not only suggested a wine other than what the reviewer had selected, but had, uninvited, gone on to explain why it paired better with an entree as if he were some "New York sommelier." Challenged, and deeply embarrassed in front of friends and family, the reviewer said, his night had been ruined. He suggested that any diner seated at Bill's station ask for another server.   
I imagined Bill reading this about himself.  
Venting online is not a measured act.  We post our angry reviews when we're mad and frustrated, sometimes an hour or two later, possibly fueled by alcohol. We do it anonymously, using identifiers like "123catsrule" because we've learned in our cyber-existence to view human beings as comments. We do it because we're emotional and want all those eyes to know why.  We do it because we half-believe words have no teeth, sitting there on a screen. But they do. 
Companies go out of business over bad Yelp reviews. People lose jobs. 
Does anyone ask to see the manager anymore?
Had the reviewer  taken his grievance to the chef/owner (a call or email still works), not only would he have expressed his disappointment to the person most interested in doing something about it, he might have walked away with a complimentary meal to look forward to. Bill might have been privately counseled, but he would have been spared public humiliation. 
On the Saturday night following the review, I saw Bill at work.  He was busy, moving quickly. When I stopped him to ask how he was, he offered a nod, and a brief "Fine," before rushing away to tend to his station.
Troubling issues and good reasons to speak up are everywhere now. The opportunity to do so anonymously is more than a powerful thing. To a punitive Yelp reviewer who considers it a duty to call out an individual by name, and warn others away from him, it is a weapon. 
You can, you shouldn't.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Pet Peeves #8, featuring the word "unfortunately," and the Microsoft scam guy

Bring your peeves
The other day, a Twitter follower who was not a fifth grade gamer in a hoodie offered a suggestion for this, the eighth edition of Pet Peeves. 
I am going to start including "Reader Peeves" when readers are nice enough to share.
There will be rules, though.  Peeves must be authorized, which means I have to have experienced them and forgotten to write them down. If I'm sent a peeve that talks about bad service in Business Class  (you know who you are), I just won't be able to include it, because I've had nothing but lovely service in those seats, and very good Bloody Marys.
Herewith: 
1. Anything that is still handled by regular mail. I've noticed that conversations with customer service reps (CSR's) who have just told you that you can't handle a complicated thing online tend to involve the word "unfortunately" a lot.
Real life example:

Customer service rep (CSR): "I'll send you a form and all you need to do is fill it out and send it back with your signature."
Me: "Can't we do this online?"
CSR: "Unfortunately, we can't. We need a signature."
Me: "Can't you do an e-signature?"
CSR: "Unfortunately we can't. We need it to be hand-written, so we know it's the authorized person."
Me: "How do you know it's authorized?"
CSR: "Unfortunately, we can only assume if the form has gone to the intended person's address."
Me: "But if I send you actual mail, I won't have a confirmation of receipt unless I go to the post office and send it registered mail."
CSR: "Unfortunately, that's true."
And here is where a quick online task turns into a week-long process while I watch for the form and try not throw it away because 97% of actual mail is junk, then scribble information on the form which will look like a three-year-old filled it out because typing has ruined my handwriting. Then, I will have to search the drawer where we keep dead dinosaur cell phones for a stamp before I realize that I can just get one at the post office where all they do is handle dinosaur mail. 
2. The Microsoft scam guy (MSG). He's been around since 2009 but if you don't already know about him, read about it here.  I hate scams, but this one is worth toying with to avoid feeling peeved.
MSG: "Hello, my name is (whatever) and I'm calling from Microsoft about your computer."
Me: "No you're not, ha ha."
MSG: (click)
MSG: "Hello, my name is (whatever) and  I'm calling from Microsoft."
Me: "Yes, I've been expecting your call.You're going to fix my computer, right?"
WSG: (click)
MSG: "Hello, my name is (whatever) and  I'm calling from Microsoft
Me:  "No you're not. You scammed my mother two years ago. You should be ashamed of yourself."
MSG: (click) 
But my favorite response was offered by a family friend: "What computer? I don't have a computer. Computers are the devil. Are you trying to sell me a devil computer?"
3. I just can't stop complaining about hold music. It should be against the law. 
I will "continue to hold, until the next available representative...etc" when I am sure you won't force me to listen to "Shake it off" with those strange descending lines that make me think of people walking downstairs. 
4. Being cornered by intense people with strong opinions who want me to be as upset as they are even when I'm not even close to being upset at all. People like this tend to keep complaining,  even as you stay in your happy and keep saying, "I know, that's a bummer. I know, that's a bummer." 
5.Chain status updates that tell me that someone I really like is deciding which Facebook friends to cut loose based on whether I am willing to cut and paste (not share) their status for three hours. I don't understand what this accomplishes other than to force the same request upon my friends that I don't like having forced upon me. 
Only a little more annoying are chain status updates that say things like "Share if you love your husband/kids/mom/God," or, "Share if you believe animals deserve to be loved," and so on. 
6. Passwords that must contain three or four characters like %$#@* and an alpha/numeric combo that you will never remember and which will force you to use the "forgot password?" link every time you come back, which will force you to wait for the email that allows you to reset your password before you can finish your task, which you will have forgotten about because now there's a photo gallery on msn.com that shows interior shots of the Mary Tyler Moore house.
9. Facebook ads that I am seeing because my Facebook friends have "liked" the products being shown. I don't need products that color roots before my next stylist appointment, and I know if a friend "likes"that the color of the season at Ann Taylor is Kelly green, I'll still never wear it.
The newsfeed is so crammed with ads now, it's like the old days when a 30 minute show was ten minutes Frasier and twenty minutes food and bathroom breaks. 
Last, but not least, I give you Reader Peeves:
1. From reader Gina:
"7 to 10 business days." Just say 2 weeks! The misuse/overuse of the word "curated." Or, "low-hanging fruit."
Thank you, reader Gina. Agree, agree, and agree.
2. From reader Larry:
Misuse of the words "plethora" and "myriad." 
Thank you reader Larry. I think I agree that plethora should remain a medical term that nobody understands rather than become a word that people use because they're tired of saying "many." 
3. Saying "real" instead of "really." It's not "real simple" Martha, it's "really simple." And it's not "real hard," it's "really hard." 

This is a posthumous salute to my husband's high school English teacher, Mr. Richard A. Ertzman, who I understand was real, and elegant and serious about really speaking correctly. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Shoes on the wrong feet

Here is a picture of Gus, pretending to not hear me calling him.
Every year, either because winter starts to feel like a long, sad movie, or because my birthday is around the corner, I enter a stretch of strange discomfort, like shoes on the wrong feet. 
It has to do with inventory and the feeling of change in the air. What have I accomplished? What's next? What's my work in progress? How am I doing?

And so on.
It's common, this process of taking stock, but it makes no difference. You still wake up tired when your mind has been interviewing you all night, wanting to know where you'll be ten years from now.   
If I write when I'm like this, I don't write well. If I can get in the zone, I'm too distractible to stay there. I consume celebrity news like mental potato chips ("Some stars can't stop working together!") or read Word docs from 2004 to decide if I might still need them, or take pictures of Gus not looking at me when I call him. 
I can feel my mind going to sleep when this happens which is the way depression starts if you don't come up with a way to turn that frown upside down, and fast.
Two kinds of people just read that. Those who know that depression isn't about "what's wrong," and those who don't, and still ask depressed people, "What's wrong?" which is something depressed people can't answer because depression is not a reaction to something. Depression is winding up at a place inside your head where there are no windows or doors to show how you got in or will get out. 
And because I fear depression like dark rooms where there may be spiders, I don't linger in that state for long. Instead, I do something spontaneous to rupture the ennui.  Last year, I cancelled my day, put the top down, drove to the beach, and came home with a fetching car tan. 

Once again, I've been waiting for clarity, the way a jogger bounces at the curb, waiting for the light to change. But this year, I made some soft rules to make it easier for clarity to find me.  

I'll share.
The first one is to be quiet enough to hear the things you're telling yourself. "I don't want to," or, "Why bother," or, "It doesn't matter" are ass-kicking words. If those words were signs they would be orange with the word CAUTION on them. 
The second one is to move. Change the furniture around. Do laundry. Clean a drawer. Not hard stuff, just productive stuff. Move.

The third soft rule is the easiest and most important and it is to stop trying to create the future in the present. Instead, improve on simple daily things and let the future create itself. There are small ways we live each day which by themselves don't seem pivotal to success or happiness, but which, when improved together can deliver a very effective ass-kick. 


Sleep enough. 
Eat better 
Stay in touch with your peer group as well as your parents and children. 
Hydrate - it's more important than you think. 
Journal for a few minutes every morning or evening  to capture the thoughts that peppered your day, or will influence the day that's coming.  

Waiting for clarity starts with those uncomfortable questions we ask ourselves about what we're missing, what we need, why things don't feel as they should.  

But with kind attention to yourself, it can end with a feeling of having something you were missing, something you deserve, the belief that it is enough, and the desire to do something good with it. 

Now that you've fixed your shoes.


























Monday, February 27, 2017

I can't wait

Oh chairs and deck, how I've missed you.

It's almost spring.

I've already noticed the feeling of "new" in the air.
The light at 10 a.m. is different, and it smells like clean laundry outside.
The sun sets later, it doesn't feel like bedtime at 4:30 anymore.
The end of the day comes more gently.

Soon, we'll be longing for dinners outside, and leaving the house without a jacket.
We'll put the tops down and feel the sun.
Instead of looking at it like someone we used to know.

It's almost time to uncover the grill, and shut off the heat.
It' almost time to open the windows, and hear this every morning.

We won't complain about the weather for months.
We'll buy bathing suits.
We'll start workout routines and move more.
We'll eat less, and feel better.

Life gets bigger when days get longer
Conversations last longer.
We walk further.
Routines bend to allow the whimsical, and we make quicker work of the practical

There is less fuss, less planning, less preparation, less thinking ahead
It is less work to live.

It seems like there is more time.
It seems like we all have this want in common

...for more time, for longer days, for bigger lives.

It's almost spring, the season of let's do this.
I can't wait.






Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Love your inner winter-idiot.

Do not bring your inner winter-idiot here unless
 you've provided it with snowshoes.
Backstory: 
According to Yourpurebredpuppy.com: 

"English Pointers, especially youngsters, become restless and bored when confined too much and may resort to destructive chewing and barking. A walk around the block is barely a warm-up for this superb athlete!"                                                                                                                   
Soon after we adopted Abby, we visited our town's athletic fields, where many bring their dogs to run off-leash. Once we trained Abby to return to us with the "Come around" command, that was that. 

End of backstory. 

When I was small, and believed I'd never die, even if other people did, I had an argument with my mother. I told her that if I were on a plane that crashed into a house, I'd probably live because I would want to badly enough. 

She gave me a kind, skeptical look and said, "I don't think that would be possible."

I said, "If I made up my mind not to die, I wouldn't. I can imagine living through that because I would make it happen."

"I don't think...."
"But if I wanted to..."

We went back and forth like that, until Family Affair came on. 

But, don't you love her for not saying, "That makes no sense. You'd die because when planes crash, people die, including the ones who don't want to. What do you want for dinner?"

We were talking about will. Not common sense. Even if they work on the same floor. 

Last month, I wrote about loving your inner idiot - the part of you that gets loose when you're not thinking, but are still operating. It was the third most viewed post of the year, and more than a few people said, "I'm glad it's not just me."

It's not just you and we need to stick together. 

Here's another true thing about inner idiots. They tend to be active when their outer person is faced with something he or she doesn't always deal with. For example, if I'd owned a superb-athlete dog before now, who liked to run in the snow, I'd know that will alone does not make it a good idea to take her to a place where the original terrain is buried under three snowstorms, and has now drifted to make the depth, in some places, anyone's guess.

But will can go a long way when you've been snowed in with an English Pointer for a day and a half. 

"We're doing this," I said to Abby. 

We arrived at the picturesque fields, which were white and majestic and not the least bit life-threatening.  A snowbank fringed the fields which was the height of many Abbys standing on each other's shoulders. She skittered up and over like a superb athlete should.

I got up and over with surprising agility, which impressed my inner winter-idiot who cheered, "Keep going!" 


We headed into snow which was deep, but manageable, and walked alongside a skinny, frozen creek, crowded with stalks. Abby raced up and over mounds of snow, only once venturing too far for me to see her. 


"Come around," I shouted. Back she came.

Rinse, repeat. 

Suddenly she darted across the creek to reach the field that lay on the other side to the right. I followed her carefully, edging downward to the creek which I planned to cross before edging upward to the other side where Abby now romped. The snow below me gave and I stepped with one foot and then the other into a drift that swallowed half of me.  

Have you ever had a moment when you looked at the ocean and been both mystified by its beauty and terrified by its immense power over you? It was like that. 


Straight-legged, I raised my thigh and felt my boot come off. If I could even free myself I was still separated from the field where Abby now ran in wide manic circles, prancing and racing through the snow like she still couldn't believe we'd actually come here today. Because, even Abby had probably looked out the window earlier and thought, Fine. I'll just chew some more books.

First, I said some bad words.

Then I pictured how this would appear to the rescue unit that I might have to summon and how I would defend my thinking which of course, had played no part in any of this.  
   
I'm doing this, I thought. 

It was an ugly show of crawling, twisting and lunging, and I lost my boots twice, and I was miserable and cold but I freed myself, and eventually, reached a stretch of concealed, but level ground that led to the car. 


I gathered Abby, brought us home and moved stuff out of chewing reach. I got warm and dry and made us an early lunch. I did some writing while Abby snoozed.


Later, on Facebook, I saw a picture of a nice couple and their dog out in the same whiteness I'd come from. The caption described their lovely walk in the snow with their grateful, good dog. They both wore snowshoes.


Oh.


Here's the thing. Would I do that again? Of course not, I'm not an outer idiot. 

But will I do something again where I employ will over common sense? I know too well, that I will.

It will probably be sometime in the spring. It will have something to do with mud, and most likely I'll need a professional before it's over. 

But, I'm thinking, by then, I'll probably have those snowshoes. 





Monday, February 13, 2017

Pet Peeves #7 featuring the DMV, where no good mood is safe.

This building should be much less attractive for
the way it can snap a perfectly
good mood right in half.
I was worried about me recently. 
I realized that while I enjoy writing my Pet Peeves posts, sometimes I'm too okay with things to spot them whilst out and about. 
Then I had to go to the Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles, and I was not worried anymore.
Herewith, Pet Peeves #7

The DMV
This is a tired complaint, but I'll make it anyway. There is not a person I've encountered at the DMV who does not seem a tiny bit relieved when they have to a) send you to another line that has the population of a small town standing in it, or, b)  tell you that you'll need a vital document that you can't remember laying eyes on, or, c) tell you it's not even something handled by  Motor Vehicles, but Fish and Game or Transportation or Comcast.
Nine times out of ten, that apologetic smile is as real as the perforated tab that never opens the rice box. 
The perforated tab that never opens the rice box. 
It doesn't. What happens is that when you flip the corner tab and try to tear along the "dotted line," nine times out of ten, you have to get scissors or a serrated edge knife to finish the job and then you're at risk for cutting yourself, not that I did that last Tuesday.
People who say "nine times out of ten" 
They do this to bolster their point, as in "Look at any car on the highway that almost ran you off the road. Nine times out of ten, it's a Volkswagen driven by someone who's had their license for fifteen minutes and has moved the driver's seat back as far as it can go in order to slouch like a badass and drive with a fully extended arm."
This percentage of 90%, like the perforated tab on the rice box, is fake. 
Junk Mail. 
I don't only hate junk mail because it takes up space in the box, I hate it because in my zeal to throw it in the trash, nine times out of ten I'm at risk of throwing away something I really need, like a tax document that is stuck between the pages. Not that I almost did that last Thursday. 
And, I hate junk mail because your tiny hope, that among all those items might be yummy, old-fashioned personal mail, is dashed.
People who think through their calendar out loud while trying to make a date 
It goes like this. Date requester asks, "When can we meet and discuss (whatever)?" And Date describer responds like this. "Let's see, Monday I have a conference call with (whoever)  and in the afternoon, I'm attending a fundraiser and on Tuesday, I'll be in Boston and let's see...hmmm...Wednesday won't work, it's my day to (whatever) and, how about Thursday? Does that work? Oh, wait. Not Thursday, I'm seeing the dentist, but actually, you said Friday might be good, right? Let's see.. Friiiiiiiiidaaaaay. Friday, Friday Friday. That could work." 
I've polled people on this. Everybody wants everybody to stop doing it. 
The use of the word "snowflake" 
The use of the word "snowflake" unless it refers to pretty window decorations of kindergartners, has become a way for older, cynical people to describe younger, progressive types who don't want things to be like they were back-in-the-day, when girls were girls and men were men and nine times out of ten, people were having silent nervous breakdowns because therapy was only for crazy people.

Here, is a piece I didn't write on the subject, but wish I had. 
~~~~~~~
This concludes Pet Peeves #7, but check back for specials. I haven't even begun to talk about winter weather in New Hampshire, or Facebook newsfeed ads. And - bonus - I have a conversation with our town tax collector coming up which already sounds like it will qualify for #8. 

Stay warm and friendly, and if possible, out of the DMV.