It’s all relative

its relative

Background image courtesy of Unsplash

I was honored to present the following on The North Raleigh Rotary Club’s family day.


In high school, one of my English teachers gave us a creative writing assignment. We were to pick any literary classic and re-write it as a modern retelling. I thought there had been enough adaptations of stories like Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to do something different. Edgy. I picked Dante’s Inferno.

Dante’s Inferno is one of the works that make up the Divine Comedy. In it, the author is given his own personal guided tour of hell encountering various tortured souls along the way. (You know – comedy). However at its heart, it is satire, as those souls are in fact thinly veiled references to various famous people of Dante’s time.

For my retelling, I wanted to be true to the original source material, but at the same time, I didn’t exactly want to send anyone to hell. My teenaged mind got to thinking. Where would be a suitable alternative setting?

At the time of my English project, I had only participated in a handful of family reunions, although we called them something else then. They consisted of a meal with way too many people crammed into a house with too few bathrooms. You were expected to make small talk and to nod politely as someone fussed over how much taller you’d grown. (An observation, that in my case, stopped ringing true quite some time ago.) To make matters worse, there were no friends at these events. Only family.

I thought the setting was perfect.

I got to work, placing stereotypical relatives in various scenes. The end result was completely fictitious, but I thought it was hilarious. After completing the assignment, I decided to show it to my mom and stepdad and waited to hear their laughter.

None came. Instead of being amused, my stepdad almost looked hurt. As he handed me back my pages, he said, “you never put me in your writing.”

I remember thinking, did he not pick up that my characters were in a hell? He should be happy to have been left out of this story.

It took me awhile to realize that he was hurt, not because I had left him out of hell, but because I had left him out of a story about family.

I am grateful to have this opportunity to correct my slight. Not everyone is.

I was in college on September 11th. I’d met Lamont, but most of my family was hours away, including a cousin, living in Brooklyn, who no one could reach. Several hours later, I learned that my cousin had gone into town after hearing about the first crash, never expecting there to be a second crash or that the towers might come down.

My cousin was okay, but as I listened to reporters say how the world would be forever changed, all I could think of was those other people who had gotten on a plane that day or had gone into work thinking September 11th was going to be no different from September 10th and my heart went out to those they left behind. Just as it does to all those affected by any tragedy, even those that play out on a less international stage.

Tragedy teaches us that every day is precious.

The world hasn’t gotten any less scary, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Fred Rodgers, the host of one of my mom’s favorite children’s shows, once said that as a boy, when he would see scary things in the news, his mother would say, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

She was right. For every tragedy, there are stories of regular people who ran into danger instead of away from it in order to save others.

These everyday heroes create hope that good will ultimately prevail. Their stories can rally a community and make it stronger. We just have to remember to look for the right story.

After I told my family that I wanted to try writing professionally, I was given a copy of a book entitled, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. One of the best pieces of advice it offers is that before you started writing a single word, you need to identify one thing that you wholeheartedly believe and develop your story around that premise.

Well, I believe that every day has value. Even the bad ones.

My book was published. Now I didn’t just want to be an author. I wanted to be a successful one too. I once was asked to define success during a job interview. At the time, I gave the cheeky answer, to never eat Ramen Noodles again. However, I now define success as being happy with myself and with what I have.

When I started blogging, I made the conscious decision that I was going to maintain a positive site with the hope that I would attract other positive-minded people and we could grow successful together. But writing for a blog is different from writing a novel. You can’t go a year or two between publications. You are expected to regularly generate content.

I looked for inspiration. I saw my children.

Their world consists of home, school, daycare, and the occasional visit to Nana’s or a cousin’s. Some might consider their world small. And yet, to them, it is something wonderful and worth exploration. I started writing down the lessons about life my children taught me.

I became more aware of the moments. By putting my observations down in writing, I began to recall the lessons my parents, grandparents, and even Lamont had taught me, wittingly or otherwise, and as I did so, I began to develop a deeper appreciation of them. Not just for how they have supported me, but as individuals as well.

This is not to say that since starting my writing journey every day has become rainbows and lollipops. They haven’t. That’s life. Later today, traffic is going to be awful. Inevitably one kid will refuse to eat anything at all on their plate because their food either touched or wasn’t cut to their standards.

I will have plenty to complain about, but more to be grateful for.

It’s all relative.

I’m fixing a hole

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Someone, please find me an iron torch and an epic hero. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Getting your novel ready for its grand debut is like battling a hydra. You make one correction, only to then discover the need for three more. I had grown somewhat obsessed over the last few weeks, a condition that has only gotten worse the closer I got to my launch date (which is next week by the way). I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night worried that there might be some aspect of the reading experience I could still improve.

The boys were taking their bath. Knowing they were occupied for the moment, I decided to sneak away to process yet another last-minute update. They’ll barely notice I am gone. After Lamont caught me in the act, I felt the need to explain what I was up to, and why. He wisely refrained from rolling his eyes. We’ve probably only had this same conversation a half a dozen times over the last month (I have the slight tendency to worry something to death). I was turning to go back to the boys when I saw it – a stream of water coming from the kitchen ceiling. Yes, it was raining out, but my kitchen is on the first floor. Considering we hadn’t recently installed an indoor water feature, there could be only one source.

LT. The boy is currently obsessed with volcanos and waterfalls. He likes the look of thing cascading downward. Sand. A glass of milk. An entire roll of toilet paper. He’s not picky. I must have left a cup within his reach once again (whatever happened to those good old days before he was mobile). I flew up the stairs, stopping at the bathroom door. Sure enough, you could almost make out waves and tidal patterns in the amount of water that covered the tile floor. (I’m a tad surprised NOAA wasn’t already there). I had only been gone a couple of minutes. Five tops! It takes the boy twenty minutes to eat half of a peanut butter sandwich, but he can cause trouble with amazing efficiency.

Ahhhh, children – such bringers of joy and destroyers of all things expensive to replace.

I looked to his brother, who immediately volunteered, “It was LT” as he scurried down the hall. Kiddo is a survivor. He takes after his father.

LT, on the other hand, happily continued to splash, as unconcerned about the pulsing vein in my forehead as he was about the stream flowing downstairs. Scooping our little future delinquent volcanologist out of the water, Lamont and I sent him to bed without a story (the worst punishment this writer could think of at the time – I have since come up with several other things that I would have liked to have done), before we set out to clean up the mess. Several soaked towels later, it occurred to us that we would also have to address the moisture in the space between floors. (Finding mold would make this a horror story)

So in the words of Paul McCartney and John Lennon

“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go”

Bacon Apple Pie

My bacon apple pie: Warning – bacon has now been linked to cancer. Consider your day ruined.

As October closes, allow me to summarize. My coffee pot caught on fire, a mouse moved into my house, and there is now a gaping hole in my kitchen ceiling. Even so, I still love this time of year. The leaves are changing and autumn brews are back on the shelves along with other seasonal treats. Best of all, by writing this, I am now thinking of pie, Halloween, and Thanksgiving (but not Christmas – stay in December where you belong). I am finally not thinking about what else I could do to the book. It is time to stop worrying about the what ifs and get back to recognizing the what wills.

The water will dry, the mouse will take the bait, and I will enjoy some coffee. All the rest can wait.

This invention can be yours too for just 5 easy payments

Cleaning after children quote

Background image courtesy of Flickr

The east coast of the United States has been drenched over the past several weeks. Yes, California, I hear you out there. I am not complaining. I am merely stating a fact. After a week of constant precipitation, I had given up trying to limit the mess my housebound children left in their wake, but when the sun finally did emerge, I encouraged Kiddo to go outside along with Lamont while his brother napped so that I might focus on interior damage control.

As I tidied up inside I heard the distinctive whirl of a saw blade spinning in the garage. Kiddo must have come up with another building project for he and his father to work on, I thought while tuning the sound out of mind. A building project meant I would have at least another hour to myself. Sure enough, roughly an hour later, the door burst open and in walked Kiddo. He proudly held up a piece of scrap wood cut roughly a foot long. A plastic spoon was attached by tape on one end with a plastic fork on the other.

“It’s my invention,” he bragged. “With this you don’t have to lose time putting your fork down. You just spin it around and you have your spoon!” It’s so easy! His demonstration would have made the most seasoned infomercial marketers proud. I could almost hear him say, but wait there’s more… I tried not to laugh. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that not only did someone else beat him to product launch, they’ve made it more efficient as well. Spork? Never heard of it.

Spoonandfork

LT woke and playtime (aka demolition derby) once again resumed and the invention was forgotten. Eventually though it was dinner time. As we set the table, Kiddo looked at the flatware next to his plate and then at me. “I don’t need this stuff,” he announced returning the utensils to their drawer. “I’ve got my Spoonandfork! (TM, Patent Pending)” He looked at LT. “Would you like one too?”

Yes, let’s arm the 3yo, who already spends far too much time playing with his food, with a pointy stick, what could possibly go wrong? “Honey, I really don’t think LT needs one of those…” I argued.

You could see it in Kiddo’s eyes. The confusion. How could Mom not appreciate the life-changing potential of his invention? The disappointment. She obviously just didn’t get it.

Kiddo turned to his brother for support. LT stared back. You could hear his thoughts as they formed. Yes, LT wants the pointy stick. Give LT the pointy stick. Kiddo’s smile returned as he found a nearby marker and wrote his initial on the wood. “This one is mine, but I’ll make you one, and when I do, I’ll put your name on it.”

LT stared at his brother in rapt adoration. Kiddo’s grin returned and stretched from ear to ear. At least someone in this house gets it. As Kiddo returned to his spot at the table, I could tell as far as he was concerned, my informal product review was already forgotten – my argument, silenced. Flipping the pointy stick end over end, he eagerly dug into his meal. I am sure that first bite was delicious.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

If we are lucky, we all will one day make our own pointy sticks. They may seem ridiculous. They may seem like wasted effort. But as long as we keep looking and keep persevering, eventually we might just find the right audience.

Caution: Training in process

I know my hubby loves me, but I am beginning to suspect he may also be trying to kill me.

Lamont got it into his head that he would like to run at least one marathon in each of the fifty states before he dies. He’s already run a few, but still has a long way to go (in quantity and in kms). Unfortunately after breaking his toe earlier this year, an event triggered by a freak increase in the corner of our kitchen island’s gravitational pull (and definitely not clumsiness on his part), he fell out of the running habit. He decided that in order to get back into shape, this time he would hire a personal trainer.

Lamont prides himself on treating our whole marriage thingy as an equal partnership, and wanted me to have the same opportunity to improve as he did, so he took it upon himself to hire a personal trainer for me as well. Oh, joy! Sometimes I have to wish he were a little more selfish.,

Medieval torture rack

Medieval rack or equipment only found at a premium gym? Both will cost an arm and a leg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My previous experiences with personal trainers haven’t exactly been fantastic, so the day of my appointment I waited a tad nervously in the gym’s lobby. Minutes ticked by without any sign of my torturer trainer. Was he a no-show? FANTASTIC! It was like being given a get out of jail free card. (I still get ice cream for showing up – right?) I started gathering my things to bolt out of there.

As I was making my escape plans, I heard a man say. “You must be Allie.” My heart sank. Must I?

Pepe wasn’t anything like I expected. He wasn’t some muscle-bound giant. Instead, he was thin and my height (poor man). We hit it off immediately (vertically challenged people of the world unite!) I explained up front that I hate sit-ups with a passion and he admitted he did too. We worked on my core for thirty minutes without a single crunch. At the end, he offered a follow-up session free of charge. Sure. Why not? I had a good time. It wasn’t like he was asking me to sign a contract or anything. I could still stop at any time (and this, kids, is why personal trainers are like drug dealers, only they offer a different kind of high)

The second time, when Pepe came around the desk I was actually excited to see him. What were we going to work on today? He directed me to one of those aerobic step platforms and handed me a kettlebell. This looked like it was going to take some grace or at least some coordination. Clearly Pepe has not visited my blog before. “Ummmm…yeah…er…Pepe, I believe you may have little more confidence in my abilities than I do.”

“Don’t look at the step. Don’t look at the weight. Just look up and jump. You’ll be surprised at how your body naturally follows a straight line.”

Somehow, not only did I not throw the weight into the face of a passerby, I actually managed to land on the platform without breaking it or my leg. More than thirty times. I know. I am as equally shocked as you are.

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that I must have left vertebrae on the gym floor because my back? It wasn’t bending. I have discovered that it is remarkably difficult to write creatively when you are moving like Frankenstein’s monster, but I still think there was a lesson worth sharing. Yes, we all have weights holding us down or disrupting our sense of balance, but when we keep our heads up, we are more likely to land on our feet.

(Oh – but lift with your legs and not your back)

Happiness and Self Fulfilling Prophecy

I remember my very first performance review. I had sat nervously at my desk waiting to be called into my manager’s office, feeling very much like a student asked to meet with the principal. I watched as a colleague exited signaling that it was my turn. My boss slid a piece a paper toward me detailing his observations on my performance over the last few months. I ignored the positive comments and chose to focus instead on the weaknesses. Seeing them listed out in black and white (and there were more than a few) I suddenly wondered if I would still have a job after this meeting was over.

I am not a naturally quiet individual, but in this instance I held my tongue as I waited for my boss to get to the punch line. I could almost hear the dreaded words, ‘I’m sorry, but…” I tried to tell myself that it would be okay, at least I could say I now had experience, which was a quality lacking previously on my resume. Perhaps this time it wouldn’t take me quite so long to get a return phone call for an interview.

After several seconds of awkward silence, my boss asked me if something was the matter. My worries refused to remain silent a minute longer. I asked him if I was being let go. My boss sat back and laughed. “Of course not.” He then went over his positive comments again with me making sure I knew this time I actually read them, and that I understood that while I had room to grow, he definitely wanted that growth to be with the company. I have been lucky. He was a good boss.

I grew more confident and comfortable with my job and my performance reviews over the years. During one of these later one on ones, my boss asked me where I saw myself in five years. I believe I laughed and said something along the lines of “in your job.” I was only partially kidding.

Nearly five years to the day, I found myself seated on the other side of that desk with my own staff. I learned then that anyone can be an oracle, but before any prophecy can be fulfilled, it must first be either spoken (loudly) or shared (often) for the world to see.

I had unwittingly made a promise to myself that day. I said what I wanted and I did what I said I would. I declared I would be successful, and by most indicators I have been. I have experienced an upward career trajectory. I have a house on the edge of suburbia and cars in the garage. I even have the white picket fence.

But two years ago I realized that I had neglected one other truth. Success by other people’s standards does not necessarily equal happiness. I realized then that in order to achieve sustainable happiness, I had to treat it in the same fashion as one of my career goals. I had to issue a new prophecy. I had to declare I would be happy, and then say it over and over again. I had to make changes to my lifestyle and attitude in support of my goal. I had to pursue happiness just as hard or in some cases harder than I had ever pursued a promotion until my goal was transformed from raw belief to real possibility.

I may never become a household name, but I might. I may never become the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but I could. Those are prophecies for another day. Today, I am pursuing my dreams and not someone else’s. I still have work ahead, there are still things that send me into a rage or sorrow, but I am at peace with the choices I have made, and in this moment, I am content.

 

 

Or at least I am on my way.

I AM

Image courtesy of Florian Klauer and Unsplash