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Becoming a Daughter

This is a piece I wrote while I was care-taking my mother-in-law. It’s for all care-takers who need to remember to breathe.

This isn’t about me. My mother-in-law was always quick to remind me of this in the sharp tone she used to mask her fear that I would pull my support, pack my “overnight” bag and leave her to die alone.

She is (name deleted)  the red-haired lady who dressed for the TV camera and took the mayor and his council to task whenever she saw the need. For some, she was the voice of conscience; for others, the proverbial thorn.

For the last year that she lived alone I was her caretaker, the significant other who signed her outpatient release and unlocked her front door when she returned home from rehab with a knitting hip and a nagging fear that the world had changed in her absence. Now she’s living in a lovely assisted living home, grateful for her cheerful caretakers and the five frail women who share her life.

We didn’t start off the best of friends. Forty-some years ago she bought a black dress for her son’s wedding and refused to invite anyone from her side of the family. Frankly, she wanted better for him and she was not shy about letting me know.

I was the in-law who never seemed to please, but who hung in there trying. Some of the fault was mine. I didn’t share her vision of matriarchy with me on the bottom rung. I was unfinished when I married her only child and I acquiesced until her grudging intolerance became a pattern for us both.

A Portuguese daughter of Azorean dairy farmers, she had worked hard to raise her social status and she saw me as a spoiler. In the 50s she opened a photography studio on Higuera Street, and operated it for two decades in three-inch heels and picture-perfect makeup. In the 60s she bought a prime piece of real estate on Wilding Lane and designed her Tudor-style house. Her castle.

Over the years the two of us formed a history. Jaunts to old inns and cafes helped diffuse our differences. She taught me nuances of style on shopping trips to Monterey, Fresno and Santa Barbara. I drove her to San Bernardino and back the same day, a 600-mile round trip so she could buy a Pekinese puppy to replace her beloved Booper. On the way we dropped $60 on brunch at the Sheraton and giggled while a white-jacketed waiter kept our champagne flutes filled.

When a heart attack forced her to give up photography she became interested in city politics. At 85, she still drove herself to City Hall three days a week and attended meetings that lasted until 1:00 A.M.

But the years caught up with her. One morning she missed the last two steps of her stairway, tumbled and broke her femur. Two months later she was released from rehab with a walker, a commode—and me.

The days formed a comforting pattern. I made out her checks and she signed them. She scrutinized the grocery receipts, questioned the calls I received on her phone and tried to make things the way they had been. In the mornings I read to her from my novel-in-progress. I slowed my pace to match hers. We took afternoon tea with pound cake made of lemons from her backyard tree.

We acted in single accord, respectful of our limits, but it was not easy. Visiting nurses and physical therapists patted my arm and wrote covert notes encouraging me. They understood that my mother-in-law was difficult.

At the hospital I heard one of the nurses whisper, “She’s the daughter-in-law, not the daughter!”

The first time it happened, I smiled. But I realized that her son needed to be at her side; he’d missed the best parts of his mother, the adventures, her joie de vivre. He didn’t understand the glue that cemented his mother and his wife like a feminine Odd Couple; two women who never liked each other very much until we came to recognize the depth of our love.

One night, when I washed her feet and painted her toenails with vermilion polish, I looked up to find tears. She would never think to thank me, but I saw in her eyes that she was touched. We are not that different, I thought. When I am old and alone I hope someone touches me like this.

Now she’s waiting to die and I miss her already. Maybe Thomas Wolfe is right; we can never go home again, but we can travel to a place we’ve never been. My mother-in-law was right, too. This isn’t about me

 

Anne Schroeder writes and speaks on healing relationship in her memoir, Ordinary Aphrodite.

John Lennon Had It Right

An unexpected gift of aging—the gift of waiting. Used to be, every thing had a time, and that time was yesterday, immediately or right now. Living in the moment meant exactly what it said. “But, Mom—I need it RIGHT NOW!”

Right now is good. In fact, it’s perfect. I find nothing to change or deplore about the present moment. But, surprisingly, “Soon” is good, too. And “Maybe” doesn’t pack the emotional punch it used to. If “Maybe” never happens, well that’s okay, too. I can live with dubious promises if that’s the best a person can give.

Three of my friends fell ill with potentially life-threatening issues this month. Each is waiting to see what their tests reveal. My mother is in the later stages of assisted living. I look at 2014 and see big changes. Waiting doesn’t hold the tight clutch that it used to when I was multi-tasking, afraid that something on my list would go undone at the end of the day. Now, waiting is simply—waiting.

I spent half an hour tonight watching the fog bank at the coast nibbling away at a strip of butterscotch sunlight just above the gray hills. Not much to answer for if I were to add it to a list of things I accomplished today, but maybe the most important.

Publication dates for my novels are underway. They will be released sometime in 2014. April and November, I think. I’m busy getting ready to bring them home. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it really is like the birth of a baby. But this baby will be with me for a long time. A week or two delay isn’t important, only that it is healthy.

“Wait a minute!” is what we used to tell our children, to teach them the value of patience. All I’m saying is, I think the lesson finally took.

Peace be with you.

The Power of One

For all his teachings, good works and radio shows, Bishop Fulton Sheen is best remembered for one statement: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

The imagery fits my purpose. A life of small steps where every step counts.

Let me start from the top. I always carry a copy of my memoir, Ordinary Aphrodite, with me. It’s in my gym bag or in the trunk of my car, a reminder that I need to open the dialogue. And who is it I am supposed to talk to? I’m never sure. All I know is that when I pay attention, we meet. She’s often pudgy, sometimes standing with her head down, lonely or sad. Sometimes it’s a young married woman. Sometimes it’s a guy. Eyes connect, I smile and the connection is made.

We talk about life and paying attention, and feeding our inner selves. About the parts of us, our spiritual, sexual, physical and mental selves, and how we become healthy and whole. These are things that matter to me, and when I find a woman who feels the same way, we energize each other, and when the conversation is over we are each bigger, better and bolder than when we met. Maybe it’s a twenty-minute conversation on the treadmill, or maybe a one-minute chat at the bank. Many times I pull out a copy of my book and give it to her.

It’s like an innocent flirtation of the soul—where the memory remains with us of a life-changing conversation with a seat mate on a flight to Phoenix or a chance meeting in the gluten-free section of Safeway.

I suspect it is God using us to lighten another’s load—it feels like that when it happens—as though we are each other’s angel. And it’s happening more frequently. Every time I leave the house, call the mortgage company to see if it’s a good time to refinance for a lower rate or order a shirt online, I find myself making a heart connection. People tell me fragile secrets and I am a respectful listener. I never worry about what I’ll say because God  provides the words. It’s nothing I do—it’s what I have agreed to become. I have said “Yes” because there are hungry hearts out there, waiting for an honest connection with another human being.

So that’s the power of one, a single candle lighting the darkness.

Just a reminder for today. Stretch your comfort zone. Look up from your smart phone, smile and connect.

Where is Your Spine, America? A Guest Blog by Laura Hollis, Professor at Notre Dame

I am not normally political, but I am a grandmother. I remember watching “Dr. Zhivago” and seeing him at the end of the movie meeting his granddaughter who had been totally assimilated into the Communist mentality, and feeling his sorrow for the world that was lost to her that she would never know. 

I feel that we are on the verge of what Dr. Zhivago was watching, and my tears are falling once again. Please read and respond according to your conscience. 

Laura Hollis is a professor at the University of Notre Dame – November 20, 2013

The unveiling of the dictatorial debacle that is Obamacare absolutely flabbergasts me. It is stunning on so many levels, but the most shocking aspect of it for me is watching millions of free Americans stand idly by while this man, his minions in Congress and his cheerleaders in the press systematically dismantle our Constitution, steal our money, and crush our freedoms.

The President, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (with no small help from Justice John Roberts) take away our health care, and we allow it. They take away our insurance, and we allow it. They take away our doctors, and we allow it.They charge us thousands of dollars more a year, and we allow it. They make legal products illegal, and we allow it. They cripple our businesses, and we allow it. They announce by fiat that we must ignore our most deeply held beliefs – and we allow it.

Where is your spine, America?

Yes, I know people are complaining. I read the news on the internet. I read blogs. I have a Twitter feed. So what? People in the Soviet Union complained. People in Cuba complain. People in Chinacomplain (quietly). Complaining isn’t the same thing as doing anything about it. In fact, much of the complaining that we hear sounds like resignation: Wow. This sucks. Oh well, this is the way things are. Too bad.

Perhaps you need reminding of a few important facts. Here goes:

  1. The President is not a king. Barack Obama does not behave like a President, an elected official, someone who realizes that he works for us. He behaves like a king, a dictator – someone who believes that his own pronouncements have the force of law, and who thinks he can dispense with the law’s enforcement when he deigns to do so. And those of us who object? How dare we? Racists!

And while he moves steadily “forward” with his plans to “fundamentally transform” the greatest country in human history, he distracts people with cheap, meaningless trivialities, like “free birth control pills”! (In fact, let’s face it: this administration’s odd obsession with sex in general – Birth control! Abortion! Sterilization! Gay guys who play basketball! — is just plain weird. Since when did the leader of the free world care so much about how people have sex, who they have it with, and what meds they use when they have it? Does he have nothing more important to concern himself with?)

  1. It isn’t just a failed software program; it is a failed philosophy. People are marveling that Healthcare.gov <http://healthcare.gov/>was such a spectacular failure. Well, if one is only interested in it as a product launch, I’ve explained some of the reasons for that here <http://townhall.com/columnists/laurahollis/2013/10/22/what-obama-could-have-learned-from-entrepreneurs-n1729682>. But the larger point is that it isn’t a software failure, or even a product failure; it is a philosophy failure.

I have said this before: Obama is not a centrist; he is a central planner. And this – all of it: the disastrous computer program, the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted, the lies, the manipulation of public opinion, the theft of the public’s money and property, and freedom (read insurance, and premiums, and doctors) — IS what central planning looks like.

The central premise of central planning is that a handful of wunderkinds with your best interests at heart (yeah, right) know better than you what’s good for you. The failure of such a premise and the misery it causes have been clear from the dawn of humanity. Kings and congressmen, dictators and Dear Leaders, potentates, princes and presidents can all fall prey to the same imperial impulses: “we know what is good the ‘the people.’

And they are always wrong.

There is a reason that the only times communism has really been tried have been after wars, revolutions, or coups d’état. You have to have complete chaos for people to be willing to accept the garbage that centralized planning produces. Take the Soviet Union, for example. After two wars, famine, and the collapse of the Romanov dynasty, why wouldn’t people wait in line for hours to buy size 10 shoes? Or settle for the gray matter that passed for meat in the grocery stores?

But communism’s watered-down cousin, socialism, isn’t much better. Ask the Venezuelans who cannot get toilet paper. Toilet paper. ¡Viva la Revolución!

Contrary to what so many who believe in a “living Constitution” say, the Founding Fathers absolutely understood this. That is why the Constitution was set up to limit government power. (Memo to the President: the drafters of the Constitution deliberately didn’t say “what government had to do on your behalf.”) They understood that that was the path to folly, fear, and famine.)

3.Obama is deceitful. Just as the collapse of the computer program should not surprise anyone, neither should we be shocked that the President lied about his healthcare plan. Have any of you been paying attention over the past few years? Obama has made no secret of his motivations or his methods. The philosophies which inspire him espouse deceit and other vicious tactics. (Don’t take my word for it: read Saul Alinsky.) Obama infamously told reporter Richard Wolffe <http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1746/article_detail.asp> , “You know, I actually believe my own bullshit.” He has refused to be forthcoming about his past (where are his academic records?). His own pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, told author Ed Klein <http://dailycaller.com/2012/05/17/new-rev-wright-audio-controversial-pastor-thought-obama-became-a-liar-video/> , that Obama said to him, “You know what your problem is? You have to tell the truth.”

Did Obama lie when he said dozens of times, “If you like you plan, you can keep it. Period!”? Of course he did. That’s what he does.

  1. The media is responsible. And had the media been doing their jobs, we would have known a lot of this much, much earlier.  The press is charged with the sacred responsibility of protecting the people from the excesses of government. Our press has been complicit, incompetent, or corrupt. Had they vetted this man in 2008, as they would have a Republican candidate, we would have known far more about him than we do, even now. Had they pressed for more details about Obamacare, Congress’ feet would have been held to the fire. Had they done their jobs about Eric Holder, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS scandal, NSA spying – or any of the other myriad betrayals of the public trust that this administration has committed, Obama would likely have lost his 2012 reelection campaign. (A fact that even The WashingtonPost <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/11/19/president-romney-yes-if-the-election-were-held-today/>has tacitly acknowledged. Well done, fellas! Happy now?)  Instead, they turned a blind eye, even when they knew he was lying, abusing power, disregarding the limits of the Constitution. It was only when he began to spy on them, and when the lies were so blatant that the lowest of low-information voters could figure it out that they realized they had to report on it. (Even in the face of blatant, deliberate and repeated lies, The New York Times has the audacity to tell us that the President “misspoke <http://dailycaller.com/2013/11/03/nytimes-obama-misspoke-when-he-claimed-americans-could-keep-their-health-insurance/> .”) They have betrayed us, abandoned us, and deceived us.
  1. Ted Cruz was right. So was Sarah Palin. The computer program is a disaster. The insurance exchanges are a disaster. What’s left? The healthcare system itself. And this, of necessity, will be a disaster <http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/161901>, too.  Millions of people have lost their individual insurance plans. In 2015, millions more will lose their employer-provided coverage (a fact which the Obama administration also knew, and admitted elsewhere).  The exorbitant additional costs that Obamacare has foisted on unsuspecting Americans are all part of a plan of wealth confiscation and redistribution. That is bad enough. But it will not end there.
    When the numbers of people into the system and the corresponding demand for care vastly exceed the cost projections (and they will, make no mistake), then the rationing will start. Not only choice at that point, but quality and care itself will go down the tubes. And then will come the decisions made by the Independent Payment Advisory Board about what care will be covered (read “paid for”) and what will not.

That’s just a death panel, put politely. In fact, progressives are already greasing the wheels for acceptance of that miserable reality as well. They’re spreading the lie that it will be about the ability of the dying to refuse unwanted or unhelpful care. Don’t fall for that one, either. It will be about the deaths that inevitably result from decisions made by people other than the patients, their families, and their physicians. (Perhaps it’s helpful to think of their assurances this way: “If you like your end-of-life care, you can keep your end-of-life-care.”)

  1. We are not SUBJECTS. (or, Nice Try, the Tea Party Isn’t Going Away). We have tolerated these incursions into our lives and livelihoods too long already. There is no end to the insatiable demand “progressives” have to remake us in their image. Today it is our insurance, our businesses, our doctors, our health care. Tomorrow some new crusade will be announced that enables them to take over other aspects of our formerly free lives.

I will say it again: WE ARE NOT SUBJECTS. Not only is the Tea Party right on the fiscal issues, but it appears that they are more relevant than ever. We fought a war once to prove we did not want to be the subjects of a king, and the Boston Tea Party was just a taste of the larger conflict to come. If some people missed that lesson in history class, we can give them a refresher.

The 2014 elections are a good place to start. Call your representative, your senator, your candidate and tell them: “We are not subjects. You work for us. And if the word “REPEAL” isn’t front and center in your campaign, we won’t vote for you. Period.”

Laura Hollis is an attorney and teaches entrepreneurship and business law at the University of Notre Dame. She resides in Indiana with her husband and two children.

Don’t Call Me a Woman Driver!

On the road again…How many of us women deserve a set of trucker wings from all the hauling, towing and hair-raising treks we’ve managed behind the wheel?

I earned my license when I was a sophomore.  Since then I’ve driven a moving van down from British Colombia and towed motorcycles on curving mountain roads. My most harrowing (and accidental) venture was driving our diesel pickup up the Road to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana. It was early morning with black ice in the shadows and one very scared husband hanging out the passenger window.
I’m proof that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

The other day I was cruising along on the interstate, driving our Dodge Ram 2500 (for you non-rednecks, this is a 3/4 –ton diesel that I have to boost myself into with a pull-up bar.) It has a six –speed manual transmission with a stiff clutch, both of which will put on muscle. Our particular make and model has a reputation for being the noisiest truck on the road. I won’t dispute the claim. It’s loud enough that old ladies glare at us from the crosswalk.

On top of that I was hauling a toy hauler travel trailer loaded with furniture (with the pickup loaded to the top of the camper) I had a set of extended side-view mirrors, but you know those signs on the back of semi’s? “If you can’t see my mirrors, then I can’t see you”? Trust me, all true.

So I’m easing my way down the freeway with only my brakes (this time, real trailer brakes, thank you,) and six gears between me and the car in front of me. And it’s raining. And it’s Memorial Day weekend and all of California is on the road celebrating the 20-cent drop in gas prices.

And it hits me—I’m fearless.

I learned to drive in my father’s 5-ton hay truck, when I was thirteen. He took me out to the cab, showed me how to operate the clutch and we did a couple of test runs around the yard before we headed out to the field. Then to my horror, he hooked the truck up to this cumbersome side hay loader and directed me toward the nearest bale of alfalfa hay.

Years later my brother told me that I popped the clutch and my father fell off into the field from several rows up, but he climbed back on and said nothing so I wouldn’t get discouraged.

So back to Memorial Day weekend. Driving a rig in a highway lane that is only inches wider than the truck is a full-time job. Somewhere around Weed, California, my husband cautioned me that with our 10,000 pound payload, it would take a city block to come to a complete stop, before he turned over and fell asleep.

I managed the next ten hours by myself. I managed the rain, and the cars and the slower-moving semi’s. I pulled into gas stations (twice) and refilled, and remembered to swing wide so the trailer cleared the rear gas pump.

Driving consciously is a high form of living in the moment. The heightened sense of danger creates an appreciation for the harmony of the road. As the hours pass and I fight the hypnotic lull that threatens to pull me into a trance, I use my senses to stay connected.

The dance of fast cars, slow cars, slower trucks and uphill rigs on steep mountainous grades is poetic. Especially when accompanied by the ballads of Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton on my CD player. I unroll the window to smell the rice fields and the smoke of the burning piles. I savor the scent of the mountains and the smell of downdrafts from the fields we pass.

I notice that the south-bound lane of I-5 is patched and bumpy, worn out by the weight of the semi’s. There is a temptation to drive faster than the law allows, to use the fast lane like the cars and damn the consequences. At night the glare of tail lights plays havoc on my distance judgment. I find myself counting “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two” after passing a slow tractor-trailer rig because it’s hard to judge distance with headlights in mirrors. The moment of decision, when to pull back in, is an adrenaline rush—an instant consequence for my decision

What struck me was how much I enjoyed the process–all ten hours. But that night I slept GOOD!

The next time I drove my car I found myself attending to the road with fresh eyes. The DMV is right—driving is a privilege. So is living on the edge. One of these days I plan to haul something live. (Tow a horse trailer or some cattle to market.) And take my new motorcycle out on a country road.

How about you?  Want to share your driving or other adventures in the fast lane?

A Case of Computer Obsession

When does the computer become an obsession and not a career tool? A fair question, and one my husband is asking as I sit in my bathrobe on a Saturday morning, “working.”

I’ve paid the bills, checked my emails and linked my latest guest blog to my social media links. http://writersofthewest.blogspot.com/  Time to cut the cord, go outside and LIVE! But after five days of marketing, writing tie-in essays for my forthcoming novel and creating a newsletter, this computer feels more real to me than my husband’s face.

If this computer screen were a slot machine, I’d feed it nickels just to have a reason to stay. (And judging by the funny cartoons and posts on my FB home page, I’m not alone.) It’s a little frightening.  This morning, faced with a decision whether to turn right and head out the door to my Body Pump class at the gym—or left toward my computer (for just the quickest check), my legs chose for me.

Needless to say, we did no body pumping today!

Husband just tucked his head in the door with a plan to run a measuring tape around our ten acres so he can map the fence line. I wanted to say, “What a dumb idea!” but I recognize an intervention when one is staged.

It’s a gloriously clear day in Southern Oregon. The sky is clear, the geese are honking and the incense cypress are infusing the meadow with sweet smells. I’m fresh out of nickels and my eyes are bloodshot from the glare of the screen. I suspect the geese are honking at me because I’m sitting at a crossroads. Like all addictions, it’s time to get honest with myself. Shut down the computer, grab a tablet and make a list of things I want to accomplish next week. Take Sunday off. Start again Monday with fresh enthusiasm.

Got to run now—nature’s calling.

Looking for Fame in All the Wrong Places

Wow. I’m so happy to be writing this. The event I have been working toward for the past five years is finally happening. I signed a contract with Oak Tree Press for my first historical Western novel. It has a name—Cholama Moon.

Lucky me, right? Actually, the trail has been long and convoluted. One, I suspect, not unlike a lot of other writers.

Several years ago (too shamed to admit how many,) I started writing short stories and submitting them to magazines, way back before there was much in the way of e-pubs. I entered a few contests. Won a number of firsts, seconds and honorable mentions. Plastered my office with these atta-boys to inspire me in the dark hours. (Which I have since taken down because they were about the past, not the future.)

One of the contests I entered was a San Joaquin Valley Sisters in Crime competition. I don’t write mystery, but the judge liked my story so much that she awarded it an honorary Coveted Dead Bird award.

I continued to write memoir. First, Branches on the Conejo, then Ordinary Aphrodite, about the Baby Boomer experience sans the drug, sex and rock and roll. Through it all, I wrote novels.

If asked to define what I wrote, I would say, “I write mainstream women’s inspirational novels with elements of romance, set in the West.” Agents’ eyes would glaze over, but I had a vision.

One year I pitched a manuscript at the Mount Herman Christian Writersconference. The agent asked a fair question: Did I read Christian genre? Um, not really. Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Mary Connealy—but, then, who doesn’t? A couple of Amish romances. He was not impressed and I had to face the truth that I was never in the game.

So, ummm, what do you write? (asked the next agent at another conference.) Well, I write women’s fiction. Ahh…(with an encouraging nod,) Romance.

Well, not exactly. That is to say, true love triumphs in the end, but my books are more than two people running towards each other, gauzy shirts flying. I write mainstream women’s inspirational fiction with elements of romance, set in the American West.

Old habits die hard. But I was starting to wonder, what is so hard about this concept?

Because I love to read them (hmmm, where had I heard that before?) I began writing plain, old-fashioned western stories with strong female protagonists. Bingo! Historical westerns. Nothing more. Implied in the term are the things I didn’t need to say—inspiration, old-fashioned values, a ton of research, a compelling story. A boy and a girl.

Long story short, the mother of the judge who awarded me the Coveted Dead Bird award was now working for Oak Tree Press, who was (happily for me,) bringing out a line of historical westerns. I queried. She remembered my name (and the story.) She fast-tracked me through the submission process. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But since good luck runs in threes, there’s even more!

I am a member of Women Writing the West. At one of their conferences I won an audio book contract from Books in Motion. At another conference, I entered a short story in the LAURA Short Fiction competition. A few months ago a screenwriter read it and asked for a script. We worked on it together—emailed it back and forth until it shone. Now my little short story, Last Dance, is the script that two mock production companies are developing at a film school in Santa Fe.

Suddenly all the unconnected moves I have made in the past several years turn out to be the right moves. Pretty lucky, you think? But every fiction writer has a mantra posted on their computer: “Publication is a Process, not an event.”

So I’m busy with the marketing process. My next novel is ready for submission. With luck (there’s that word again,) Maria Ines should be released six months after Cholama Moon. I’m working through Oak Tree Press’s 58-page marketing guide and I’m glad that I have done the basics. Luckily, now I can concentrate on the nuances.

Please share how your process has evolved. If only as a cautionary tale, like mine.

Love, Hate, & Everything In-Between

Sometimes holiday get togethers can be a bit sticky. Siblings and children arrive from far corners. Logs burn. Alcohol soothes. A lethargic atmosphere loosens the tongue and memories flow.

I used to cringe in my corner while I waited to hear what the new batch of memories unearthed. But no more. Because now I’m armed with the wisdom of Hippocrotes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_temperaments . I’ve been re-reading a couple of books that discuss his theory of personality types. One of them, an out-of-print copy of Tim LaHaye’s Transformed Temperaments  (and his wife Beverly’s The Spirit Driven Women) invite a Christian introspection that for me has been life-changing.

I was first introduced to Meyers Briggs and Hippocrates in Psych 101– the Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy and Phlegmatic personalities. Another book, The Delicate Art of Dancing with Porcupines calls them the Expressive, Driver, Analytical and Amiable.

What I love about studying the personality types are the charts and wheels that show the negatives. Since I’m not so good at changing, it’s important to understand how my negatives grate on other people. And how they can be less difficult for me to handle!

Give you an example. I’m a Sanguine-Phlegmatic. According to Rev LaHaye, that means I’m happy, outgoing, honest and quick to jump into the fray. But I’m also egotistical, given to exaggeration, undisciplined and think before I speak. Apparently a great story teller, which is a good thing for a fiction writer. I’m saved from doom by the Phlegmatic part that provides my calm, loyal and tenacious side (if someone can prod me to action.) Apparently some behavioral specialists feel this combination is a winner. Oh, did I mention that  Sanguines tend to be chubby?

Detail oriented and analytic, I am not. But then neither do I possess a tendency toward negativity—that would be my husband, the Melancholy-Choleric. He’s the jet fuel for my engine, the inventive, romantic doer (unless I disagree with him and then he’s pushy and cranky.)

This year instead of a second (or third) glass of champagne, I analyzed my kids and siblings. It was a bit like putting together a huge fruit salad—there was something in the bowl for everyone.

 

Knowledge is Power. I wish I had understood that my mother-in-law was a full-blown Choleric and that her reaction to me was textbook. Maybe I wouldn’t have taken her criticism so personally. God grant me the strength to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Or in my case, the strength to shut my mouth before I speak.

I recently spoke with a Phlegmatic woman who raised five stepchildren and five of her own on a tight budget. She was a stay-at-home mother who ran the books on her husband’s construction company and to my knowledge, never indulged in the luxury of pedicure or facial. She mentioned that one of her stepsons recently threw out the complaint that she never attended his ballgames. Of course the kid felt unloved (and of course he exaggerated and feels terrible about blurting this out forty years after the fact.) He is a total Sanguine who craved her attention while she showed her love by staying home, cooking dinner and tending to the household chaos while her husband represented them at the ballpark.

Mistakes are made. But they don’t have to be. We owe it to everyone to be better versions of ourselves. Not to be bossy, but go on– Google Hippocrates or Myers-Briggs and take a personality test. Make your mate take the test and start the New Year with a better foundation.

 

And please share your personality combinations with us.

A Fireside Chat

The fog enshrouded woods outside my window brings a melancholy reminder of my own mortality. I respond by drawing the drapes and sitting in front of the fire, mug in hand, staring out past the empty porch swing where I spent most summer evenings. The wintery day calls for reflection.

People my age complain that life has passed too quickly, but I don’t agree. That’s what I’m thinking about today—how full the years have been. No speeding flight, it’s taken me a lifetime to arrive. I recall past decades by their main accomplishments—the twenties, mothering years of little sleep, trying to fit the responsibilities of Mate, Mother and Material Girl into Career and Spiritual Life—in that order, I confess.

The thirties were more of the same, except that Mother took precedence over Mate. My husband was a periphery object I fitted in when our schedules and inclinations allowed. “Living single” is a phrase that comes to mind. I read a lot of romance novels and wondered where mine had gone.

In my forties I began a preoccupation with health and body issues. My weight started to climb. Mammograms and root canals entered my vernacular. For the first time I felt my life had reached a plateau—mid-life—and the rest would be down hill. I doubled my efforts. In came the gym, hair color, daily walks, self-awareness groups, massage sessions.

The fifties surprised me—a renaissance of physical and emotional energy driven by pheromones and testosterone bloom that created in me a fearless and productive period of writing. I wrote two memoirs, including Ordinary Aphrodite, my boomer woman’s journey of small steps. I will be forever grateful for the surge of energy that produced this work.

My sixties are a surprise, too. At forty I thought the party would be over by now. I’m grateful that it’s not. My husband still looks at me “that way.” We tackle projects that would probably kill off younger people—including this past year, three months of tearing out and burning blackberries, taking down old fences and restringing new ones along half of our ten acres. We cleaned up a can and bottle dump in a ravine and filled it with dirt.

We travel and explore and hike to the end of the road and back.

But there was a moment last year. One of our Dexter calves, a 250-pounder, broke into the garden and managed to impale its horn nubs in a deer basket from one of the roses. We penned it and roped it, and soon it was whipping us around the pasture, spewing snot and foaming with thirst. We managed to free it without harm to calf or human, but it was a moment if reckoning. Time to rethink my priorities.

So here I am, contemplating my life. So much left to do, so little time. This morning I signed a publishing contract for a historical western novel I penned over the last three years. I will serve as President Elect of Women Writing the West next year. I bought my Christmas gifts in local shops this year, cut a Christmas tree from our woodlot. I sport a really bad haircut from a new stylist who didn’t notice the shape of my Norwegian blockhead and I hardly even care. It will grow out and we’ll try again in a few months. No worries. (Wish I could have said that in my forties.)

So the fire crackles (actually, it pings. It’s a pellet stove.) The mug grows tepid. I find myself grateful for everything—the past and what is yet to come. And this surprises me because at thirty, I would have expected to be sad. Instead, I’m sort of sad about my thirties.

 

Thoughts? Please share yours. I’d love to hear from you.

God in the Details– Random Apologies and the Soul

What is it there about an apology?

Today  I opened my email and there it was, a totally random note of apology for a long-ago slight. Did I mention it was wholly unexpected? I started reading and felt the awesomeness of the writer’s words soothing my injured places. Some of what she wrote, I agreed with (the part where she said she’d been snotty,) but upon second reading, what struck me most was realizing that she felt worse about the event than I did. I read her note to the end and I was smiling. My heart was smiling. My blood pressure lowered and my body felt at peace.

My next thought was, Nice lady. Followed by the suspicion that she was being too hard on herself.

I didn’t need an apology, but reading her words, I realized she did. The note was for her more than for me. She had offended her standards and her conscience had given her a niggling kick in the butt because that’s what consciences do. She needed to forgive herself, and writing to me was the best way.

Mea culpa, mea maximus culpa—arguably the most healing syllables man (or woman) can utter. Only eleven syllables, but trust God to do it in ten; You are forgiven. Go and sin no more. 

If God forgives with such grace, would we not want to do the same?

I wrote a quick, heartfelt reply because our casual friendship had survived a bump in the road. I told her how I admire the strength in her voice, the conviction of her beliefs. I let her know I was bothered by our rift, too, and that it should have been me who wrote the first note, but I’m glad she did.

 

And now we’re friends.

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