The Strive to be Ahead of Your Time

There is nothing like the joy of bringing something new into the world—something you worked incredibly hard to produce. A baby, a book, a barrel of whisky—they’re all boxes I’ve been privileged to tick off.

The thing that brings absolutely no joy, but is also heavily represented in the realm of the world of production, is the waiting that comes with it.

I am not a waiter.

I am a pacer, a tosser and turner, a nervous finger drummer, and a clock watcher.

I wear out carpets, pound and fluff pillows, and have more scraps of paper containing chaotic time-tables than the TSA currently, as they’re scrambling to fill “no-shows” in their employee work schedules.

Yeah, a bit like that.

And whether I’ve been hauling around a growing human, chattering on social media about an emerging tale, or taking far too many samples from the barrel “just to check its progress,” there is one thing certain about all of them:

They ain’t done till they’re done.

The element of time is something I cannot alter. And altering it is the one thing I wish were at the top of the “to do” list for a few more scientist, physicists, and local crackpot sorcerers.

I’m really not fussed who it turns out to be is the person we all bow down to after he or she has discovered how we can tinker with a timeline to suit our needs, but surely someone is going to wear that sash and crown eventually, right?

For years, whenever visiting universities for my daughter’s college campus test drives, I’d manage to find a way, specifically out of earshot of my “I’m going to help conquer space” child, to have a private conversation with one or two of the professors we’d met. I’d inquire about space/time travel, they then made a wide berth of me for the remainder of the tour.

It’s only now, maybe six or seven years later, that the chatter on that subject is finally one that fills the internet with graphs, pie charts, and spreadsheets made from multi-degreed scientists and not just science fiction authors.

It’s a teensy bit ironic that I’m having to wait for time travel.

Weirdly, just as strong as the desire to leap forward to arrive into the moment of accomplishment, there is another want that travels at its side, in its shadow: the yearning to leapfrog back.

It is impossible to do, of course, but anyone who’s ever endeavored to journey through a long haul production will likely agree that at some point within the undertaking—whether halfway through or at the finish line—you will feel a desperate urge to return. To tweak, to adjust, to unclutter. To reappraise, jigger, and amend.

But again, science is moving molasses slow with their participation in giving us this option. A bit like the speed of a snail with a limp.

And thus we are left with a few paltry alternatives. First—be circumspect with your work from the get go. Second—suck it up and deal with the regrets. Third—hide, Thelma and Louise it right off a cliff, change your name and buy a food truck/mammogram van to fill the need for cancer prevention through comfort food. Call it Two Boobs for a Biscuit. I don’t know. I’m riffing here.

Anyway, the point is that we can’t go back.

We can’t unmeet that man. We can’t revise that chapter. We can’t redistill that spirit.

The results are the results.

The good, the bad, and the ugly. And in some worst case scenarios—failure.

But … what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the outcome is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest is called learning.

I know that’s a small measure of comfort when you’re on the precipice of seeing your results unveiled. It brings little relief to those of us in charge of a gazillion dollar mission to Mars that sees catastrophic calamity in its “all done and dusted phase” to have the ability to say, “Well, at least we know what line of code doesn’t work.”

But it’s a necessary and unavoidable part of all progress. Period.

And the concept of ‘progress’ brings us back to the whole idea of time, movement, and achievement. The text missing in this chronology is the word reflection. When our efforts are spent and we’re left with an outcome, sure, we can choose the food truck, but we can also choose the food for thought.

Mindfully revisiting and diligently muddling through a postmortem are key for advancement, for if there is one thing I feel certain of, it’s that I simply do not want to be good enough to keep my feet on the track, I want to keep my feet moving forward.

So yes, the waiting for our books or babies or booze to be complete must be reframed as not stalling out. Reflection and projection might be very capable methods to utilize at these moments. We can learn from our past—and one day, if science will finally hear my beseeching petitions, we can learn from our future. All so that we will not just survive the present, but thrive within it.

~Shelley

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The Foot-Slogged Journey from Zero to Hero

According to Google, the definition of the word hero is:

A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A warrior, a knight, a lionheart.

Or we could go with Google’s second definition:

Another term for a submarine sandwich.

I am surrounded 24/7 by heroes. Their voices ring in my ears in pitches that reveal their age and dialects that unmask their country of origin. Occasionally, their speech is so foreign to my mind, I find I must consult etymological dictionaries to make sense of what they say.

Most of these heroes I conjure up myself.

It’s a writer’s process that involves a mixed bag of tools: a few shovels and brushes for the archeological dig to uncover the bones, or a hammer and chisel to chip away at “whatever isn’t the angel,” or, my favorite, the ability to sit with a mental stereogram—where you purposefully lose the eye’s traditional and automatic ability to focus—and then suddenly, mind-blowingly, find a new depth of perspective.

Something magical emerges from something quite ordinary.

I’m used to following these heroes through some journey.

We meet the hero. Something happens to him that forces him to change—despite the fact that he is resistant to change. He’s drawn into some crisis. Things go to hell in a handbasket for a brief period of time. Some metamorphosis occurs, impacting our guy and allows him to respond to the call. And then …

BANG!

He saves the day.

Amen.

I am drawn to these people like a needle pointing north and with the same urgency as when anyone cracks open the door of an oven filled with chocolate chip cookies.

My above definition is a super-simplified explanation of a complex, universal storytelling form called …

The Hero’s Journey.

(Please note: In my head, anytime this phrase is said aloud, its audio quality is enhanced by some impressively epic reverb.)

According to many who’ve studied the great stories of mythology and the broad swath of tales that fit beneath the umbrella of the monomyth, there are a few things necessary in each of these sagas:

A situation, a protagonist, an objective, conflict and disaster, and very important—an opponent.

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My list is by no means complete, but just an “around about” example to further my unfolding tale.

But the hero I’m going to tell you about is not one of mythology or conjured up by my writerly imagination. She is a regular Joe. A flesh and blood body. A mortal, a maiden, and amusingly, mine.

Okay, that last part may no longer really be true, as she leapt from the nest two years ago, but the ownership part isn’t the important bit. It’s the journey. It’s one I was given the privilege to watch close up and from all angles.

You know those first words we record as proud parents in the biblical baby books of unprecedented infant achievement? This is found in hers:

Airpane.

Yeah, not a typo.

One tiny fist with one tiny finger extended upward and continuously, unrelentingly, irritatingly pointed toward the sky. One tiny mouth was forever uttering what two tiny eyes could see and two tiny ears could hear.

Airpane.

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Rare was the day when I had the time to track each one of her identifications—and I certainly did not possess the keen eyesight and impressive auditory range that she seemed to have been born with—but I breezily verified each one of her chirps with some form of response like,

“Wow, good for you, Toots. Keep your eye out for more.” Or,

“Clever girl. How many is that this morning? One hundred? One thousand? I’ve lost count.” Or,

“Okay, I get it. You were a pilot in a previous life. I’ve got to fold laundry.”

When my daughter was about five, two common career themes emerged and spilled out into her everyday life. She was heavily into deciding between becoming a ballerina or an astronaut.

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One day, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for her. She was going to have a few follow-up booster shots for some prior vaccinations. Knowing her intense hatred and fear of needles, I tried to plan something fun to follow that doctor’s appointment that would keep her mind off of the wretched shots:

We were going to have lunch … WITH AN ASTRONAUT IN TRAINING!

A family friend was delighted to hear of my daughter’s early interest in space and eager to encourage her tiny spurts of enthusiasm. It was exactly what we needed to follow that pediatrician’s appointment—which was …

Awful.

She hid, she screamed, she threw tongue depressors at the man as if she was barricading herself inside an ice cream truck with nothing but popsicles to use as weapons. She told him she was going to hunt him down in the middle of the night.

Yeah, it was appalling.

Anyway, back at lunch, our astronaut friend began to fill my daughter’s head with all the details involved in becoming “an astronaut,” and at one point launched into the myriad medical tests and examinations one must undergo in order to determine if one is even physically fit enough for space.

My daughter inquired about inoculations.

“Yep,” he said. “Plenty of needles.”

She then turned to me and asked, “Do ballerinas need shots?”

Well, I thought we were finished with our miniature hero’s journey into space and that life would finally return back to normal. I would no longer have to feign interest in her long conversations about the complex water systems aboard the International Space Station which provided astronauts drinking water made from a filtered mixture of recycled shower water, old astronaut sweat … and pee.

Except I was wrong.

Because every day that space interest grew. Whether she was curious about rocket fuel, or space shuttle tiles, or the physics of learning how to fly.

At one point, she said to me she would happily accept a one-way ticket to Mars if it was available and she qualified, and then gave me permission to give away everything in her bedroom to Goodwill.

“What?” I said. “You’re still interested in space?”

Apparently, this was the equivalent of asking, “What? You’re still interested in breathing air?

She struggled with physics like it was some Minotaur she’d regularly sword fight with each night before bed.

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She spent countless, frustrating hours with her teachers in order to understand—not memorize—the facts in front of her.

One of her teachers—a Japanese physicist, whom I swear was the prototype for Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid—threw countless roadblocks in her way.

“Why waste your time with space?” he’d ask her. “Space is for boys. Dolls are for girls.”

She would march from his classroom and turn to face him just before leaving and flip him the bird.

He, on the other hand, would smile with smug contentment after she left, knowing he’d lit a fire beneath someone’s nettled knickers.

Word had it, that this man had come to America with the impassioned notion that the world needed more girls in math.

But apparently, he didn’t want ones that crumpled when facing adversity.

Walking into her bedroom was a bit like being a detective who opened the door belonging to a guy whose crazed neural network encompassed all four walls of the freakishly alarming one room apartment he lived in. Where equations were sprawled across every square inch of space, and yarn connected one spot to another, making the entire room feel like it was a massive, but not yet completed, macramé pot holder.

Understanding that this was a language I would never have the codes to decipher, I’d offer up encouragement from the safest quarters of my own comfort zones—stories.

Seeing her bleary eyes each morning, and the small, but growing bald spot patches where she would regularly grasp at fistfuls of hair—I first assumed out of frustration, but after taking into account the amount of information she was trying to consume, I came to believe it was in an effort to expand skull space—I would offer up my suggestions. I didn’t want her to give up.

“Why don’t we head to the library and check out some super stories about space adventure? Stories like Aliens Love Underpants, or The Martian Chronicles, or Ender’s Game, or (most important) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

But with each book I brought home and encouraged her to read, they ended up buried beneath printed out specs of some new rocket booster. Or NASA flight mission reports. Or CDs that declared, you can learn how to speak Russian and Chinese in under ten minutes a day!

She didn’t want to read a space story.

She wanted to be a space story.

Countless times in this child’s life, I’ve stepped back and looked at the path she was traveling. It’s been riddled with potholes, roadblocks, detours, and burnt bridges. But it has also been abundantly sprinkled with mentors: sensei sword masters, Yodas, Gandalfs, and Dumbledores. Guides who have handed her a sword, a light saber, a wand.

Repeatedly realizing how out of depth I was, the best I could hope to do was step out of her way. I was not going to be the antagonist in my very own child’s heroic journey. I did not want to be her conflict, her disaster, her apocalyptic Death Star.

But I could keep her sword shiny, her lightsaber full of batteries, and her wand connected to Wi-Fi at night whilst she slept.

I looked for the places I belonged in her story. Many times I found it was on the sidelines taking notes. It’s what we writers do to nudge a story into place. It’s what we cheerleaders do to rally our heroes. It’s what we parents do to encourage our children.

Today, this child of mine studies aerospace engineering at MIT and is in the middle of her first summer internship with NASA.

It is a beautiful thing to realize that Thank God, you did not get in the way of someone else’s dream and hopefully, instead, pruned back the prickly path a tiny bit to make the journey a little bit easier.

I celebrate both of my children’s achievements as they come, and tell them about the importance of embracing each one of their failures along the way as well. There is no rising without falling.

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Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we may bring back the bandages and antibiotic ointments that come with life’s splashdowns and spills. It is all part of the hero’s journey and there are no shortcuts around facing your dragons.

Today I am so happy for this child I find myself nearly bursting with joy. I seriously just want to take a bite out of her.

I’m guessing she will taste something like a submarine sandwich.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

I Knew It! It’s Only a Matter of Time.

All you have is the NOW.”

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This is a quote from my yoga teacher. She reminds me twice a week that there is the past, and the potential, but most important is the present.

This moment.

And once it goes, it’s gone.

I wrestled with that quote for an entire hour last week during class, trying to unravel it. Those six little monosyllabic words. It was harder to pay attention to than I thought it would be. My thoughts have a habit of being way ahead of my body—or way behind it. The idea of syncing the two together is about as easy as the concept of bowling in space or playing tennis underwater. Not a lot of success, and hugely effortful.

I understand the need for a point of convergence mostly because I’ve benefitted when I’ve arrived at exactly that spot. But these are tiny chunks of time—slivers really. Twenty minutes of meditation where maybe out of those twenty minutes I was fully present for about four of them. The other sixteen were thinking about my grocery list, what books were due at the library, or how to encourage my plumber to put whisky, red wine, and chocolate sauce on tap in my kitchen.

I know. I get distracted. But it’s nearly impossible for me shut down that thought factory.

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The idea of remaining mentally engaged is a no-brainer for me—although that’s clearly a poor choice of words. As a writer, I need access to my stores of creativity and a method of churning up its source to keep the vault filled to capacity. Damned is the day I open that door, reach in and pull out nothing but a fistful of mothball scented air. I also need cerebral acuity in order to keep up with my kids. Once I discover they’re slowing their speech and purposefully choosing words that would be dismissed as too difficult for a fourth-grade spelling bee I am toast.

I’m grateful to my yoga and meditation teachers who all seem to carry the parade-sized banner that states: Found yourself distracted by other thoughts? No worries! Start again. It’s rather an amazing club to belong to where you thankfully realize that J.K. Simmons is not your mentor and you will never get slapped upside the head for losing the count.

But the measurement of time—or time perspective—is often where I get caught in a circular loop. I once heard psychologist Philip Zimbardo lecture about how time—as our current culture defines it—can be broken into six segments.

You can have a Past time perspective, where you focus on the positive or negative, a Present time perspective, where you focus on hedonism or fatalism, or a Future time perspective, where you focus on life goals or the transcendental.

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I may pen Dr. Zimbardo a note to suggest a quick conversation with my hero Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes we could possibly add a seventh segment to time perspective that I’ll call Sideways. Neil says, realistically, if there’s a forward and backward and a ‘stay where you are’ on the measurement of time, there’s likely a left and a right built in there too, but we’re just not seeing it yet.

Yep. Mushroom-shaped, mind-blowing thought, eh? See why I can’t stay focused?

But I think I’ve discovered what would help me on all fronts of time measurement and it’s a ridiculously simple solution, and yet an impossible one.

HIT PAUSE.

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Stopping time altogether seems like an answer that would affect the past, the future and the present—and likely those wonky side bits Neil says are invisibly hanging about. How?

If for twenty-four hours I could stop time entirely I could work at fevered pitch, press play and then realize that the next day I’d wake up and be a paltry nineteen days behind schedule rather than the overwhelming twenty I’ve currently tallied. That might make a dent in the past and I’d feel a more ‘positive past time perspective.’

Or I could use the time to make a massive deposit in my depleted sleep bank and snooze through the two dozen hours. This would surely display my tendencies toward ‘hedonistic present time perspective.’

Or lastly, I could finally fill out that Last Will & Testament, write sappy farewell love letters to my children, build myself a sturdy pine box and locate the tree I’d like to be buried beneath as a clear illustration of my ‘transcendental future time perspective’ because the alternative of devoting those windfall hours to ‘life goals’ would do nothing but demonstrate that God had somehow managed to insert an eighth day to the week, as it would be the same as the seven before it.

No. It must be unique.

Twenty-four blissful bonus hours of time not moving even one tiny inch forward. I could catch up, I could sleep or I could focus entirely on my impending death.

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Umm … it may not be as tough a choice as I once thought.

Yep. Those extra hours sure would be appreciated. In fact, maybe the best idea would be to devote the day to increasing my success with that whole mind/body being in the moment goal.

So, for now I’ll put the past behind me and I’ll set aside the future. Because as all the great Zen masters say, there’s no time like the present.

Except for the ones Neil says we can’t see.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

Living in a Crack House

“It is NOT possessed!” I shout into the phone to one of my friends, who—because she allows me to shout at her when necessary—is exceptionally dear to me.

And that is a number one rule of friendship in my book. To truly be friends, you must be able to display your well-developed lung power and not be judged as super shouty and hysterical. You are merely passionate.

And I am passionately explaining to her that my house is not ruled by demonic forces.

“My house is just making a few unusual noises,” I explain. “Popping and cracking not moaning and groaning. What you’re describing is a dwelling that gets a movie deal and starts showing two weeks before Halloween.”

I put the phone down on her. Not in a huffy, I-hate-you-and-this-girl-gang-thing-we’ve-got-going-on-is-so-over kind of a way, but rather in the I’ve-work-to-do-plus-you-make-no-sense kind of a way. There’s a difference. And we both know it.

And I also know that my house is NOT haunted.

I’m going to guess that everybody’s abode makes noise in some fashion or another, but most of us are either surrounded by so much superfluous noise we don’t hear it, or we blame it all on our teenage sons—whether we have one or not. Let’s face it. They are responsible for many of the world’s ‘unresponsive to medication’ headaches.

It all started a couple of weeks ago as I was working at my desk, in a house I believed to be devoid of noise. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the massive crack that filled the air.

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Because I was so submerged in writing, the only thing that pulled me to the surface was the loud sound. Not the direction the sound came from, nor an inkling as to what caused it. I shrugged and went back to work. But just like a toddler tugging at your shirt as you are trying to hold a conversation with the pediatrician, and the pediatrician is rattling off the ‘follow these directions for medication treatment or death is imminent’ jargon, that toddler will be heard. Two more tugs—er, cracks soon followed.

And these I hunted down. Somewhere on the second floor, I surmised. There was nothing obvious to explain the sounds. No great chunk of ceiling had fallen. No wall had caved in. There was no disarray on the floor to suggest the handiwork of feline tomfoolery. It was as I’d last left it. Which, quite honestly, I could not accurately pin down on the calendar. When had I last been up here?

I returned to my usual post and passed the rest of the day enjoying the sounds of nothing but the gear shifts deeply embedded within my brain.

Hours later, while preparing a lavish meal of tinned food and kibbles for the critters, I was struck dumb at the encore of cracks identical from earlier in the day. I rushed to where I was positive the sounds had sprung from and looked up. I was standing right below my daughter’s closet. I laughed and then explained to the dog. “It makes perfect sense. Remember those two car-sized suitcases we lugged into the trunk just before taking her back to university? Yep. That’s this part of the house springing back into its original shape from no longer having to hold the weight of her clothing.”

But I remained curious. And then noticed these pops and cracks coming from other places in the house. In particular, the windows at sunset.

I decided I was in dire need of an expert so I hunted down a friend of mine who happens to be an architect.

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“So what the heck is happening? I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in a house that sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies.”

He laughed, rolled up his sleeves, and took a big breath.

“There’s an inordinate amount of chatter taking place in the average home that covers up what your non-demonic, unhaunted, not-specter-infested house is trying to say. Turn off the TV. Unplug the radio. Slap a strip of duct tape over the pie hole of anyone that steps across your threshold and listen. Really listen.”

I did.

To him—for the next thirty minutes.

“Your house is a living, breathing, organic structure. The cold, the heat, the rain, a drought—it all has an effect—and a gloriously audible one on your home.”

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I leaned back a little in my chair. He was starting to spray spit with his enthusiasm.

“Your wood expands and contracts, the nails twist and pop with the friction of those movements. Your foundation responds to the shifting ground. The glass in your windows reacts to the sudden loss of heat at sunset. It’s marvelous. The physics of it all is absolutely marvelous!” He slapped the table with a great big WHACK for emphasis.

I nodded and glanced around to see a mother gather up her toddler and his toys, and move him to a table that would clearly give her a head start if things went further south.

“And have you ever listened to your house breathe? The air ducts are like esophagi. And the pipes that run through the floors and ceilings carrying water are like blood vessels. The wiring and circuitry are equivalent to the electrical impulses of the brain. Your house is alive—”

“Oops—hold that thought.” I leaped from the table and waved my phone at him. “Gotta take this.”

There was no incoming, but I dashed off the numbers for an outgoing lickety split. I called the friend who doesn’t mind my non-hysterical shouty conversations.

“Just to let you know, I now have confirmation that the house is not possessed. Everything I’m hearing is normal. It’s all engineering and physics behind the noises.”

“Bully for you,” she said in the snarky dulcet tones I have grown to love.

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“Thanks. But do you happen to have the number of a priest who does exorcisms?”

There was a slight pause on her end of the phone. “I thought you said the house wasn’t possessed.”

“It isn’t,” I said. “But the architect I’m sitting across from is.”

~Shelley

*PHOTOS OF ROBIN GOTT IN HIS NEW PLAY!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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