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Next?

I love making lists, like many of us do.

When I can’t sleep, I make lists of what I’ll pack for a trip I’m not taking. Nevertheless, I’ll be prepared to look casually hip for a spontaneous excursion to the city, or for an overnight in the Northeast Kingdom if the opportunity pops up.

I’ve written about Bucket Lists before, as some of my reading friends know. I don’t care for them. In fact, hearing about them bugs me almost as much as the thought of making one.

A bucket list, in my definition, reinforces what one has yet to accomplish. That’s depressing and too much of a challenge.

Instead, I have a Next Life List (NLL). It’s not so much about physical accomplishments, like running a marathon, or climbing mountain peaks, as it is career options.

  • I have no medical skills, nor have I been in hospital administration, however I’m good under pressure and quick on my feet. I would be an excellent diagnostician doing triage.
  • I’m unable to clip my cat’s claws or my mother in law’s toenails, but I can see developing compassionate living arrangements for old people and animals to spend their twilight or dark days together, safely and comfortably before going over the rainbow bridge. I’d be a great community organizer.
  • I can’t make up my mind between regular pencils, mechanical pencils, fountain pens, roller balls, and cheap hotel retractables when I’m dilly-dallying, nonetheless I know the relationship between hand and paper is important. I’d be an intuitive inventor of things that allowed people to enjoy writing even more.

This current life of mine has involved a lot of patience, or learning about patience. How will that be of benefit in my next life?

It will make it easier to see the forest and the trees, to listen and provide what is needed, to improvise, and create.

What’s really nice is that an item on a NLL could get ticked off in this life. You just never know.

I like being prepared almost as much as packing and making lists.

Namaste- Reinvention? Reincarnation? Who’s to say?

David Sedaris and Me.

I have a tendency to believe that if I’m intrigued, interested, or inspired by a person, and want them to be my friend, s/he will feel the same. I can count on one hand the number of times that has worked out.

I can count on two hands the times it hasn’t.

Those instances have been massively embarrassing and emotionally discouraging, however, as with most situations in my life, the worst stories end up being ones that make my friends double over in laughter. Then again, most of my friends are kind and prefer to learn from my mistakes.

This past September, Peter and I heard David Sedaris,the prolific American humorist, speak at the Paramount in Rutland, Vt.

I wrote him a fan letter in March of 2020, one of the 1500 or so he gets a month. I was inspired to write because I felt he wrote like me, and I told him so. I was intrigued that he never had to establish a social platform in order to get published and interested to know if he thought that was still possible in this day and age.

It’s not too difficult to read between the lines. Dear David, I know everyone wants to be your friend, but we have so much in common as you will see in my blog. You may even wish to save me from jumping through hoops and find me a publisher.

Six months later I received a postcard from him. He had read one of my blogs and wrote, “I think a beginner chainsaw class for women is a great idea. After 15 years someone just asked me to write a book so I don’t have much advice.”

To be clear, that blog entry wasn’t one of my best. In fact, there wasn’t much funny about it except for a photo with me in my PJ’s making a smoothie wearing a hard hat and ear protection. That’s only funny if you know it was the only time I donned any of the safety equipment, much less looked at my chainsaw, since the class ended a year ago.

The evening in September was going to be my chance to show him, or remind him, who I really was, a smart, talented, pleasant, witty, and likeable person. Someone he would be honored to call his friend and protege.

I’d been carrying his postcard with me for almost a year, but due to my constant switching of pocketbooks, I couldn’t find it that night. I pretended not to be distraught as I planned my outfit.

What was I going to do anyway? Wave it in front of his face as he signed a copy of his book screaming ‘YOU WROTE ME!’”

Really.

I’m much too cool for that.

Because I couldn’t find the postcard, and I couldn’t bring him my book, Virtuous Sinner (of course I sent him a copy a few months back) I needed something to make an impression.

So I penned a list of “Five Interesting Coincidental Similarities Between David Sedaris and Alexandra Langstaff” and put it on a piece of matting board suitable for framing.

There were about 20 people in line ahead of me after the show waiting for David to leave the stage and get set up at a table, with a protective plastic barrier with his pens and markers.

The oversized card was a good idea because I used it as a fan. (Note to self, scarves should only be worn outdoors in blizzards, not as the perfect accessory to tie an outfit together in a crowded theater lobby.)

The people in front were all couples. I was alone because Peter was leaning against a wall pretending to be part of security in his black fedora and tweed jacket.

That was just as well because I had no ability to speak. My legs had gone to jelly and my heart was beating so that I could not only feel it, but I could hear it, sending the blood coursing through my carotid artery. I was slightly worried that I would explode.

As the line shortened, one of the real security guards brought David two plates. Obviously the man needs to have choices of what to eat. 

How humiliating for the people in front of me, I thought, I’m so glad I’m back here. Is he going to talk with his mouth full or focus on his food rather than his fans? I hope he’s a fast eater.

As I grew closer and Peter continued to act like the Secret Service, my brain, obviously unappreciated, left the building and went back to the car in the Walmart parking lot, where we had sushi before the show. It was evident that my wits had left me as my turn came. Up to the table I walked with a slight limp, my legs had gone numb, and the first thing I did was to point to one of his plates and say, “That looks horrible.”

Needless to say, he was slightly taken aback as was Peter, who had left his post to accompany me, unaware that I was about to implode.

“We’re so sorry to interrupt your meal” Peter apologized.

Wait, this is a book signing, we aren’t asking for a selfie at a diner for god’s sake, I thought wildly.

“Uh, do you accept gifts?” I whispered. 

“Sure, what is it?” he asked while taking a small forkful of something that looked delicious. Some jokes fall flat.

“It’s a list of five interesting coincidental similarities between David Sedaris and Alexandra Langstaff.” 

Notice I didn’t say between “you and me” but used our full names as if being formal was a sign of reverence and respect.

“Uh, it’s sterilized”, I added as I passed it under the barrier.

“What do you mean?” he questioned.

“Uh…I mean it’s sanitary,  no cooties or anything.” I mumbled.

What if he asked me to prove it?

“Read me some of it”, he asked while drawing falling leaves next to his signature.

“Uh, David Sedaris once saw a dead wallaby on the side of the road. Alexandra Langstaff once saw a dead kangaroo on the side of the road, holding a can of Foster’s.” 

How to ruin someone’s appetite and put a damper on the conversation.

It was clear that I was untethered, so Peter said, “You sent her a postcard!”

Rather than be grateful for his interjection, I wanted to elbow him in the ribs. This was like going up to a famous author in a grocery store and gushing, “We’ve read all your books”. How crass, how gauche, how… helpful.

Peter broke the ice. We had a conversation starter.

“If I wrote to you, you must have written to me. What did your letter say?” David asked beaming.

Because my brain, in defeat, had gone back to the car earlier, I drew a blank.

Think! Think! Say something original and clever.

“Uh, I asked you about the publishing business.”

NOOOOOOOO!

Time is running out. Why is my head so empty?

“Uh, the picture on the postcard you sent me was of Mr. Smith’s runaway horse and my maiden name is Smith!”, I jabbered.

I felt a wave of relief. Maybe my mind was returning. Maybe I just needed to warm up.

“Well thank you for coming, I love meeting people I’ve written back to,” David said as he slid my book towards me.

“And thank you so much for your words”, I blurted rapidly as the Secret Service agent, Peter, escorted me away from the table. “You read my blog and agreed that a chainsaw class for beginners was a good idea” I announced over my shoulder.

I know the 30 people still in line were glad to see me go.

On the 45 minute drive home, I replayed the embarrassing and discouraging experience over and over. So much for being at home in the world. What happened to the confident, sparkling, easy to speak with, refreshing burst of energy person that anyone in their right mind would want to exchange phone numbers with?

I was pretty sure that Peter was to blame for me making a fool out of myself in front of an author I was interested in, intrigued and inspired by.

Poor guy, it’s taken me weeks to get over it.

Namaste: want to read the 3 other similarities ? Send a message my way.

Two Truths and a Lie

Two truths and a lie has been used as an icebreaker for at least two generations.  Colleagues, fellow workshop attendees, and slumber party guests get to know each other by guessing which of three statements is false. It’s a good way to see who is up for stimulating conversation and who couldn’t care less. 

The latter says something like this-

  • I’m afraid of snakes.
  • I’m afraid of mice.
  • I’m afraid of bats.

All statements could be true but which one isn’t? You don’t get much personal information here except that the person is a scaredy cat or purposely private. I suppose it could be a conversation starter but not necessarily a long or interesting one. Thank you for sharing.

The former, the stimulator, likes to tease the audience with tidbits of information, and their fib is usually one with a variation on the truth rather than a baldfaced lie.

  • I gave the Bicentennial speech on the town green when I was 17.
  • I came in 1st in a ski race where everyone else fell or lost a ski.
  • A guy gave me a bloody nose in a disco in Italy.

Actually I came in 4th, twenty seconds behind 3rd place, she finished the race on one ski after falling.

All three declarations are more intriguing. We’re talking (possibly) about a history of public speaking, international travel, and athletic prowess.

I’d much rather talk about innocent assaults in nightclubs than snakes any day.

My blond haired friend came up with a third option which essentially wrecks the game. The idea is to say things that are totally inappropriate and ridiculous.

  • I never tip more than 10% at a restaurant.
  • I slept with my best friend’s husband yesterday.
  • I think no lives matter.
  • I have red hair.

“Oh I’m sorry, I forgot it’s just two truths not three.”

Obviously the speaker doesn’t have red hair, but what does that mean? Who is this person? 

This is an opportunity to show the people who you aren’t. Not great as an icebreaker, but then again…

There’s a writing prompt that I ignore, “Write about something you’ve never told anyone”. Why would I ignore responding to this invasion of privacy? Is it because 

  • I could go to jail?
  • I think writing prompts are stupid?
  • I’m afraid you will look at me differently?

No matter which are true and which is false, it’s none of your business.

When you publish a book or a blog, writing is an icebreaker. You will either bore people to death, inspire conversation, or notice averted eyes when you are at the grocery store. Wait! Are we still playing two truths and a lie?

Namaste- Pinocchio rules! Can I get a Hurray?!

Lookin’ for Trouble

The majority of the time I enjoy whatever I’m doing at the moment. Writing, reading, eating, drawing, and watching rabbits play in the yard is easy. 

It takes a little more effort to find something positive when getting a colonoscopy, replacing a dental crown, grating cheese, or taking a stand up paddle board yoga class.

The pond was about 3 feet deep so any fear of drowning was minimized. However, I don’t like unexpected falls, and watching others attempt to stand on their heads and then joyously flop into the water was disconcerting.

How am I supposed to know where to put my feet? Doing yoga in a bathing suit is obscene. Does she even see me floating away? Did he just blow his nose into the water?

My discomfort became so out of control that I decided to hate the teacher. I wasn’t going to listen to anything she said. I lay down on my back, under the hot sun and pretended to meditate. It isn’t easy to hang your legs or arms in the water when the damn thing is so wide.

There’s a good possibility that the teacher was ignoring me because I was ignoring her. Yoga is about being present and comfortable with where you are. Maybe she thought I was content and tranquil, spread out on my board like a beach towel.

Eventually I rolled over onto my stomach and sneered and jeered at my reflection “If you are lookin’ for trouble, you’ve come to the right spot”.

It was actually quite alarming to see how unsavory and disagreeable I looked. I was an amalgamation of Captain Hook, Gollum, and Harry Callahan. I’m quite the actor.

Looking for trouble is looking for attention but not knowing how to get it. It’s easier to complain than it is to get down to the crux of the matter, and that’s often unmet needs. When the ego gets in the way, admitting to being “needy” is like choking on a mouthful of pond water.

If I asked for help, I’d appear incompetent or …gasp…needy. She should realize that I’m in panic mode here. What kind of professional fails to notice that a student who is constantly looking at her watch is insecure, embarrassed, and way out of her comfort zone?

We all have a part of us that knows better. It’s the voice of reason, so muffled by self righteous indignation over perceived slights and mistreatment, that all we hear is static in our ears. Or in my case increasingly evident tinnitus. Indignation is rarely righteous. It’s looking for trouble rather than looking for a modicum of help or contentment.

Maybe I don’t have to do what she says, maybe I will be the instructor instead. How would I teach a big baby, scaredy-cat like me?

This is what I would say,

“Are you at ease in water? The first time I did this, I was mortified at my lack of balance. I find the best way to start is just by sitting still and focusing on the movement of the board. Notice how a slight shift of weight affects your breath, in turn notice how your breath affects the board’s movement. You know what? My grandmother had a swim suit very similar to the one you’re wearing. I’m so glad that style has returned! Can I explain what I mean about the angle of the blade again?”

By the time class ended, I glided along effortlessly back to the dock, dry as a bone.

The next time you feel really aggravated, look in the mirror, and in your toughest voice, ask yourself if you are looking for trouble and then channel Clint Eastwood and add “Go ahead, make my day”. The absurdity of your words just might throw you off balance enough to listen to reason.

Picture Perfect

I have a tough time taking food photos. We have poor lighting in the kitchen. Every dish looks the same and not very enticing.

The lighting outside is much better, but the bear, bobcat, deer, porcupine, bald eagle, and coydog don’t hang around long enough for me to take their picture, much less find the right button on my phone.

I can count on the rabbits though. They are naturals in front of a camera. They look straight at you, show profiles, and repeat action shots, almost as if auditioning for a feature role in a film, over and over again.

This morning before outdoor aerial yoga class, while hanging upside down, I took a video. The canopy of cedars above me seemed to reach the branches of the  trees lining the Southern Vermont Art Center walkway, about forty feet away. 

The view was surreal. I filmed looking straight ahead, and then panned up to where I was hanging, to the sky above. When I went to play back the video, it self-corrected and turned the upside down clip right side up. What the heck? (There are many sites that advise one how to correct upside down videos, but not many on how to keep things topsy turvy.)

Sometimes we want to change our perspective, our attitude, or thoughts, but obstacles get in the way.

How can I look at things from all sides when the other sides are ridiculous? How can I maintain positivity when it rains every day? How can I think like a real entrepreneur and take publicity photos while upside down only to have the daggone clip not cooperate?

It comes down to sincerity, diligence, and patience.

Do we really want to change? Can we take the time to figure out how to do so? Can we let go of the need for immediate satisfaction or success?

I marvel at those who have beautiful and interesting posts on social media. If I really want to join that talented pool, I’ll need to reread “Social Media for Dummies”. No skimming this time.

Namaste- picture perfect? Not today!

Damn it! I’m still not the best.

There comes a time when the facts are clear. Today was yet another one of those times.

I am not the best.

In the old days a tennis ladder was a way to encourage us to play officially against kids we wouldn’t normally play against, and to work on our game. It was also a tactic to keep us from constantly enjoying each other’s company while lobbing balls over the fence, to irritate the golfers.

The names of anyone interested in participating were written on cardboard tags hung on metal hooks on a triangular shaped board. The original pyramid was set by drawing names at random, after which you could challenge one or two people above you to play a match. If you won, you took their spot, and everyone else under, dropped down a peg.

Most of us knew who the better players were. There was usually a big gap in skill level between the McNealus clan and anyone else, however it didn’t matter…much. We were all equal when it came to getting yelled at.

Before my sister Dee grew taller than 36 inches, I could count on challenging her, taking her place, and staying there. Those days are long gone.

I received an email the other week announcing a new ladder, a grownup ladder. I’m not very competitive. I get uncomfortable with too much seriousness, focus, aptitude, skill, determination, or dedication.

Then again, maybe I am too competitive, and a sore loser and don’t want to play anymore if I get creamed too often. I signed up (without telling my sister) and decided to investigate my reactions.

Needless to say, after two rounds I hold the place of honor at the bottom of the board.

Some say “With age, comes wisdom“. I say with age comes the maturity to say to someone, “I accept the fact that you just cleaned my clock, and I’m okay with it.”

Often we don’t put ourselves in challenging situations because we know (or assume) we will lose or look ridiculous. Sometimes we should, so someone can say, “If that bozo signed up, I should too.” We might inspire someone to step back out onto the court, enter a competition, write a book, or take a weird yoga class.

We are all the best at something. Sometimes we want others to know what that is. Sometimes we don’t know what that is ourselves. Sometimes, that something is being able to say to another, “You are the best.”

Road Trips are different when you aren’t 20.

Peter and I just got back from a road trip to Florida. We had 3 beautiful days of 90 degree weather with my grandmother. We sweated and complained about the heat. It was wonderful.

Surrounding that time we had 8 days of full on driving. We made 6 overnight stops, got a $128 speeding ticket, and a cracked windshield. 

Peter did 97% of the driving. My 3% was 2 hours in the wrong direction in Georgia, 3 days in the Florida neighborhood, and an hour and 15 minutes from Troy, NY to Dorset.

Peter likes to drive, or used to. I like to navigate, or used to. I had my notepads, book and knitting with me but enjoying those pleasant pastimes is unfair to the driver,  unless you are on an airplane.

I felt it was important for me to have the same blurry eyes as Peter at the end of the day. Actually mine may have been worse because I had to keep peeking at the speedometer without moving my head.

The days of AAA trip-ticks are long gone, just as is the simple beltway around Washington, D.C.

I followed the directions diligently via my Ipad and her voice announcing up and coming exit ramps. (Funny she never said a word when I was headed towards Macon, GA rather than Jacksonville, FL. Maybe she didn’t think I would listen.)

The problem with navigating with Google Maps was not the fear that we would end up driving off a pier, more so that when she said 1300 miles to your destination, she wasn’t kidding. Your arrival time may vary by a few moments (unless you get pulled over) but the miles stay basically the same. There’s nothing you can do about it.

There were many moments when I thought this was the stupidest idea ever. I wondered how many times I had crossed and uncrossed my legs. How much longer did we have to listen to Classic Comedians and hits of the 1940’s? Who knew that NPR runs out of new stories?

I was caught in the present. Here, folded into a car that used to be comfortable.

There was nothing I could do but sit. I had no control over the situation, except imagine ditching  the car and jumping on a plane.

I became resigned to our (my) predicament. That’s the first step when dealing with uncomfortable situations, accepting that that is what it is, uncomfortable.

The second step is choosing how to react. Admittedly, at first, I sighed a lot, then I made up better scenarios, “Let’s pretend we are just leaving the house and are going to Albany. Once we get there we will turn around and come home. We can have lunch. I’m in the mood for a hotdog, two actually. Then we’ll just drive back to Albany!” That was better than saying, “In 2 hours we will have 4 more hours to go.”

There are situations much worse than willing the time to go by on a road trip. My friend Katie McKenna got run over by a truck. She had no choice but to accept the passage of hours, days, weeks, months, if not years, in bed, before her body would heal itself and she’d be ready for a driving excursion.

We can control how our mind works but we can’t control the passage of time, just as we can’t control the sudden appearance of a police car or the trajectory of a flying pebble.

Often the idea of letting go, or giving up, brings negative connotations, like one is weak or helpless.

Maybe we need some new phrases to work with, like “Donate your control” or “Take a break from the driver’s seat.” (Of course that’s easy for me to say.) The point is, we all will eventually arrive at our destination points. Sometimes it’s just not a scenic route.

I must say I saw an awful lot of Golden Doodles and Labra-Doodles catching the wind from back seat windows on Route 95. Rumor has it that dogs have a different concept of time than we do. They are either with their humans or they aren’t.

On the next trip I’m going to pretend I’m a dog. “Yippee: Road Trip! We are all together, what fun!”, and leave it at that.

Namaste, buckle up, we’re taking the bumpy way!

April fools again.

April in Vermont is both predictable, and full of surprises.

The cement hard, dirt roads of winter turn into muddy, rutted, bogs overnight.

The small glaciers on the sides of the driveway, left by the plow truck, disappear leaving piles of gravel and scraped up sod.

With the appearance of snow drops, crocus and daffodils, come t-shirts, shorts, and tick spray.

The sun, the warmth, returning birds and the show of lilac buds are reminders that “YES! Once again spring is here! It’s the  fourth month of the year, just like normal”.

And then it snows. What a surprise.

Today we’re having a freak snowstorm, although there is nothing freakish about it. Just like taxes, April snow can’t be avoided.

The best thing about it is we know it won’t last long, despite the fact that this dusting is turning into inches as I stare out the window. The earth has been warming up. This snow is like butter on toast, it’s going to disappear pretty quickly. (It’s a scientific fact I think.)

Here’s the yoga thing, it’s accepting what is happening here and now, knowing that things may get better or may get worse. Although I can’t see the yellow of the daffodils any more, by tomorrow they will have survived this onslaught, or maybe there will be an ice storm next and all the green stems will snap in half. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

Knowing things may get better is hopefulness, it’s having faith. Knowing things may get worse is acceptance. Maybe that’s the key, Hopeful Faithful Acceptance.

If we can practice the ability to stay calm on the mat, realizing that nothing, even discomfort in a shape, lasts forever, it can help us do the same off the mat, staring out the window, watching the crocus fully disappear.

Namaste, I’ll bet this snow is gone by May!