Bones: Taking Stock of Life

It’s the end of the year. Time to take stock. And time to make stock, as my freezer is chock a block full of the bones of birds who’ve been spatchcocked and roasted to perfection, and of deer who have unfortunately wandered to close to a tree stand.

I’m grateful. Amazed. And exhausted.

Grateful in that twelve months have passed and not one of them has slipped by unnoticed as it spreads itself out on a buffet table full of things that taste sweet or bitter or rancid or divine. I believe in a well-balanced life just as much as a diversified diet. Nothing can quite put one’s perspective into sharp focus as much as having the two ends of life’s emotional spectrum—joy and sorrow—battle each other daily like the climax of a Marvel superhero film.

I’d never wish for a life that was as supine as a flatlining monitor, but this year, both my brain waves and heartbeat have tested the vertical space allotted them. I wouldn’t mind tweaking the master switch just a tad so that the next 365 days might not have quite so much ear-splitting, heart-wrenching feedback.

Amazed because one can go through a year of peaks and valleys (or as I like to refer to it in whisky terminology—glens and bens) and still come through the other side not only thankful for another day to draw breath, but indebted to life with a capital L for an additional chapter in the rulebook of survival and longevity.

Shock therapy—not in the literal sense, but rather a sharp realization after the fact—can be crisply defined and utilized by simply asking the question: So how much did this really matter?

My answers have spanned the gamut of So much more than you thought it would to Meh, it’s only money.

The point is, without truly delving into that question, you carry a lot of weight around that serves no purpose other than to stress your aching joints and increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. I’m learning that instead of my usual daily mantra of Never, never, never give up, I might be better served by trying a few How quickly can I kick this one to the curb?

Of course, millions of women around the world are now having to change their calming daily incantations to Wake up, kick sexual harassment’s ass, repeat.

And lastly, exhausted from all of the above. But let me be clear; it is not burnout.

Life is full of failure, and I get that. I get to taste from that big soup spoon frequently and sometimes unceasingly—especially since I’ve taken on Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to do something every day that scares me.

In fact, that prescription has forced me into the prickly awareness that I’m growing comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And discomfort can be taxing. It can plaster you to a prostrate position by the end of the day–sometimes from the work that requires effortful patience and tenacity but sometimes like the flick of a switch with the speed and tonnage of a freight train.

Samey samey. You’re either deflated or razed. But in the wee small hours of the morning you’re pretty much a puddle.

I’m a very omni-directional sort of person. When coming to the end of the year, I like to look back. I like to see where I’ve been, how I’ve changed, and how many bodies are littering the ground behind me.

I like to look forward. To see how far I’ve yet to go, how much grit I’ll have to muster up, and whether the tread on my shoes are up to the task in front of them.

And I like to look outward. Outward because—and this is a little meta so hear me through—it helps me see inward. I think you can’t really answer that question above—So how much did this really matter?—unless you can pull back the lens and get a bird’s eye view. 30,000 feet gives you broad objectivity. From this frame of reference, the roots of the Tree of Life you tripped on grow blurry with the landscape.

What sticks out are the things you built.

The work you thought important. The relationships you believed were relevant. The foundation you’ve chosen to stand upon.

Your attitude of interpretation.

I hate to be preachy. It makes me my own teeth itch. But the end of the year always finds me channeling my inner Glinda the Good Witch with her saccharine life coaching. Obviously, she’s been dying to come out periodically but just like the Elf on the Shelf, she’s usually boxed up until the month of December when my whole house becomes the set for a Hallmark Christmas romance movie.

Plus, with so many family feasts and holiday gatherings, liquor is in abundance. And with the first sip of spirit comes the unleashing of all those pent up, stuffed down wistful musings I try to keep a lid on because I actually like my teeth and don’t want anyone to remove them when their fist accidentally bumps into my face because they just can’t stomach me anymore.

So I go back to making stock. Bone broth is simply life in liquid form. It’s nourishing. It’s healing. It’s soul sustaining.

Make enough of it to buoy you through the next twelve months. There’s magic in that elixir. It is full of life from the past … and for your future.

Happy New Year everyone,

~Shelley

For the time being, the 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’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

 

Straighten Up and Fly Right

Today, Peakers, I’m posting an article I wrote for an online magazine called Dear Teen Me, where authors pen their teenage self a note from the future. An exercise in memory, humor, advice and forgiveness, writing a letter to your former self is a worthy task and a labor of love.

Also, a shock of realization regarding your naiveté with savvy hairstyles.

~~~~~~~~~

Dear Shelley,

Buckle up. I mean it. Your life is going to be like a long, long ride in a SIAI Marchetti aircraft doing countless aerobatic maneuvers until you toss your cookies across the glass-roofed ceiling and finally land. Then you’re going to scrape all that Keebler off the canopy and get back up there.

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And if you’re having a hard time imagining what it’s going to be like in that Marchetti, picture the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds mid-show. Picture speed, panic, and an occasional loss of equilibrium.

And then realize that your answer to all those hair-raising, stomach-churning, lunch losing flights is to learn how to fly the damn aircraft yourself.

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I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking we’re an idiot, right? Well, we are and we aren’t.

We’re an idiot for letting so much scare the hell out of us, but we’re not too duff in the brave department. It nearly evens out.

There’s so much I could tell you right now—warn you about, but I’m thinking if I do that, we might have ourselves a Back to the Future situation here where I could end up altering the past. And I’m not willing to risk that.

I know what you want to hear. Did you get the guy? Is your name in lights? Did all those wishes you made on candles, eyelashes, and falling stars come true?

Sorry. I’m not going to tell you that. Even though it would be tremendously easy for me to do so. Why not? Because you like surprises. And because life would hold no magic if I let you read the end of the book.

Do you remember that one time when you were eleven or twelve and finally got the new hardcover everyone was talking about in school, and everyone was nearly finished with it and you were so behind you jumped to the end so that you could at least talk about the ending with everyone else the next day? Do you remember how it made you feel?

Empty.

The book meant nothing to you. You found out the plot, but you missed the whole point. Yeah, it totally sucked and I’m not going to do that to you. I want you full of wonder. Because wonder is the thing that motivates the hell out of you. But you already know this. I’m not spoiling anything here.

So what might be the point of this letter? Why write to you in the first place? The answer is such a simple thing—such a tiny message, but it might have a big impact. This letter is nothing more than a request. I want you to make a habit of carrying around a small plastic bag in your pocket. Think of yourself more like a Girl Scout. I want you a teensy bit more prepared. Prepared for those “I’m so scared I could toss my cookies” moments. I want to at least eliminate the fear of having a “visual burp” where you can’t get rid of the evidence within the amount of time it takes to tie your shoe, or swat a fly, or download a song from iTunes when you’ve got unbelievable Wi-Fi coverage and computational speed. Okay—ditch that last reference because you’ve got no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

It doesn’t matter.

But because we carry fear around in our invisible backpack of ‘can’t leave home without them’ obstacles, it’s best you just stop trying to overcome it or destroy it and maybe just embrace it.

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I’m not saying the two of you have to become best friends, but you are both riding on the same bus and you’d better find a few things to talk about in order to pass the time. It’ll be so much easier this way.

Get to know this fear entity as quickly as you can. Explore it, like the dark side of the moon people write songs and poetry about. It’s really not such a mystery, more like a family member no one wants hanging around when the shit hits the fan. Fear is one of those things that ends up getting in the way of solving a problem when you really wish it would grab a bucket of water and start helping to put out the fire. Fear is the person who screams, “MY BABY!” instead of wrestling the longest ladder she can find off the fire truck and slamming it up against the house beneath the nursery window.

It doesn’t have to be all panic and suffering. It can be more like accomplishment with a little sprinkling of panic and suffering.

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Think of fear as a seasoning like salt and pepper. You can live without them, but ask anyone who’s on a low sodium diet what they think of their dish and the first thing out of their mouth is going to be about how bland everything tastes.

So, here’s my definition of fear: not necessary, but greatly needed in order to provide life the depth and breadth of its true dimensions.

I promise I’m not just blowing smoke out of my pie hole for fun. At forty-five, we’ve had enough experience with the annoying companion to qualify as a crackerjack connoisseur on the subject. Trust me. Just roll with it.

And don’t forget the plastic bag.

Lastly, just so we don’t waste time with the whole ‘get your debut book out there quicker’ issue, I’m attaching the manuscript of a little book I wrote which I think might do well. It’s a tale about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard.

Love,

Shelley

Shelley Kids Photo 2Shelley Kids Photo

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Today, he’s posting a sketch that BELONGS in DEAR OPL!

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.

 

 

Who Do You Think YOU Are?

Now that we’ve all gotten through that first (and some might say unbearable) month of the year, it’s a grand (and some might say painful) time to take a quick looksee backward to collect a few points of data.

I call this month the time of RECALIBRATION because with all the frenzied excitement of December’s last week, which is stuffed full of well-meaning (some might say drunken) promises we nearly tattooed to our skin with the bulldozer determination of rebranding ourselves into the new shinier 2015 version, it can get overwhelming.

Some might say paralyzing.

I see no need for any of us to shrink away from our former selves, or the vows we made to our former selves. Like campaign promises, circumstances change: real life slaps us upside the head, supporters who swore they’d have our back are getting crabby because the timeline is too slow, we’ve finally had a moment to sit down and read the fine print, and in some cases, we discover that Lincoln’s historic and exclusive bedroom smells like Lincoln’s socks are still stuffed beneath the bed. All the hype ain’t quite what it was cracked up to be.

So now is a good time to take a deep breath and practice this phrase:

I used to be …

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NO GUILT!

‘I used to be’ can be just as cleansing as it is clarifying. For example, I used to be determined to rid myself of the seasonal Jack Frost Flab until Polly Polar Vortex burst through the door and hollered hello.

I have changed my mind. I am now simply always on the ball with early winter prep.

Another illustration might be, I used to be resolute in my goal to sing a duet with Frank Sinatra, but then he died.

I never gave up on this goal, I just came to realize it is doubly difficult to sing two part harmony with a corpse.

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There are myriad examples that may be just as revealing, but a little less disheartening like:  I used to be young, but now I am … not as young.

But each day that has passed has brought something my younger self did not have:

EXPERIENCE.

Hard won, effortful, exhausting, mind-numbing, hair-curling, wouldn’t-trade-most-of-it-for-the-world experience. (Some of it I would trade. Some of it I would pay people to erase from my memory and the memory of all the others involved, and then I would be at the mercy of those folks for as long as they would allow me to serve them.)

Or how about: I used to be a student—and go figure—I still am.

I used to be a student in a small classroom, then a large classroom, then on a massive campus. Now I am a student, but one without walls. My math assignments are the bills, the budgets and the taxes. English reports are my books and my blog. History is learned from the library. Science is a rich alchemy occurring all around me—from the stove top to the utility room, from the distilleries I study to the labels in my medicine cabinet. School is ever present, and I will always be a student.

At this point in my life, it’s almost as if behind every door I open, someone is flipping on a light bulb, and a small, but vocal collection of brain cells all join together and belt out a beautiful chorus of an aha moment.

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I pray their efforts don’t diminish. I hope that one day there will be an ongoing work of symphonic status performing up there.

And I implore science to hurry up and double their labors at successfully creating that special pill/implant/gene therapy that will ultimately improve my concentration, increase my memory, and boost my intelligence. I promise to do great things with it. I promise not to hack the financial industry, or mess about in the tech corridors, or commandeer the world’s defense divisions.

I promise. I can assuredly say that I used to be honest is not a phrase I will ever utter.

I really just want the extra brain juice for a few household experiments like figuring out a cost analysis for the most efficacious and least expensive wrinkle creams, or for what speed my make and model of car would consume gas most efficiently, or whether cryonics will be a sound decision for my hound at some point because I cannot imagine finding another animal as perfect for me as he is. And I will wait for whatever cure veterinary medicine doesn’t have available just yet for some ailment he may nearly succumb to in the future.

That’s what I’d use it for.

I promise.

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And how ‘bout this one to leave you with? I used to be afraid to try new things.

I still am. But I never let it stop me. Except when fear equals wisdom. Best not to ignore that little pearl.

Now you look at your life. How many ‘used to bes’ is it filled with?

It takes a significant element of courage and energy to commit to become something. That something that was important to us for a minute, a month, or a lifetime. Identifying your used to be is not a list of your failures.

It is a record of your efforts and accomplishments. It is a sign of movement and momentum. It is a mark of evolution.

~Shelley

(This post was inspired by one of my favorite authors and thinkers: Seth Godin.)

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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Unfettered freedom; America’s elbow room.

Tis the week we Americans begin getting a sprightly gleam in our eyes. It could be suggestive of our massive appreciation and gratitude toward our forefathers—the ones who gave their lives for our liberties. Or it may simply be a reflection of all the illegal fireworks we’re setting off in preparation for the big day: the one where we’re supposed to be showing massive appreciation and gratitude toward our forefathers, but end up losing focus due to the overabundance of burgers, beer and bad behavior.

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Therefore, this year I am determined to explore the theme of freedom before my brain becomes befuddled.

Summertime is a season where typically we are encouraged by the onslaught of complimentary commercials to enjoy the hot, sunny days and wear the attitude of one who is footloose and fancy-free. And I think that works brilliantly if you have a trust fund and are allowed free rein with someone else’s credit cards. Sadly, this is not the case for most of us.

If you are a regular Joe, with a “regular Joe” debt, any day that you are offered a free lunch, or a free ride, or heck, even a Freemason, you’ll likely feel some appreciation—especially if  you’re hoping to understand anything Dan Brown has written.

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So although we attempt to conjure up a free spirit on our off hours and break free from the hectic work week mentality, it can be challenging to toss off the shackles that bind us and view our good fortune.

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I’m trying to encourage this holiday of independence to become as meaningful as I can possibly make it. One needs only read the headlines or hear the top of the hour news to gain crisp perspective on how fortunate many of us are—irrelevant to the number of dollars, pounds or shekels we have in our respective bank accounts. A good number of us are granted the license of self-government—to an extent. Wear what you want to wear, say what you want to say, love whom you want to love. These are prime examples in our culture of where we are encouraged to think and act freely. And folks make an impressive practice of it.

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Unfortunately, not many follow through with an all important end clause: think and act freely, and then pick up all the garbage that may have been the result of your thinking and acting freely. That’s the hard part. Because as I see it, sometimes the privileges we’ve come to bank on crumble, and from then on it’s a slow, tortuous game of pass the buck in search of a clean-up crew. You can ascribe these words to politics, to education, and even to something as trivial as whomever chose the “meh” food, horrific service, and over-priced restaurant you all dined at last night.

As I sit in wonder this week, hearing the pop and crack of homemade bottle rockets, cherry bombs and Roman candles, and as I gaze with awe watching the professionals set off specialty fireworks–particularly, certain explosions that leave me wondering how anyone was able to make a massive Bundt cake appear in the sky, I want to evoke my many definitions of the concept of independence.

Self-reliance falls under that umbrella. Realizing that yes, maybe for much of your life someone else is in the driver’s seat, but understanding that at any point you are allowed to ask your chauffeur to pull over and let you drive, let you out, or let you toss your cookies on the side of the road before you continue on. And all free from guilt. You are more than capable of deciding your own compass heading.

Self-determination is another idea I gravitate toward, as well as the easily linked word autonomy. The world is full of people with ideas. Some are masterful and well-thought out, some are sparked ‘in the moment’ by inspiration, and some are bound together within the pages of The Darwin Awards—a wonderful series of books that salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.

My point is, is that it takes courage to strike out. It takes confidence and pluck and a bold arrogance that you are right. And sometimes, all it takes is an excess of liquor.

If there is one thing in particular that I will focus on during the celebration of this country’s independence, it will be bravery. Robert Anthony is quoted as saying, “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” It’s clear that history is rife with examples of those who chose to liberate themselves from an incompatible life. They faced a daunting task. And it took grit.

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Freedom is not free. It comes with a price. And I believe that the higher the price you pay for something the dearer it becomes to you.

This is not a free ride, it is not a free-for-all, and we are certainly not home free. There are people who need our strength, children who need our voices, and causes that need our leadership.

Stand up and fight. Like those before you.

I want to see you be brave.

~Shelley

(And for your viewing and listening pleasure, watch this vid and get motivated!)

June Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click on June 30th to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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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And I quote …

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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I pay attention to words. As a writer, I am encouraged to scrutinize my words — and everyone else’s.

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And I have been known to give voice to animals, insects and inanimate objects purely because I am convinced they are trying to communicate. I will be their translator.

Oftentimes, it’s like converting African Khoisan clicking into Klingon and sprinkling it with a bit of Dothraki and Pig Latin. Yeah, that hodgepodge is probably not going to catch on.

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Even though I have a nerdish penchant for individual words, and when asked for the title of my favorite book, I awkwardly admit it is Roget’s International Thesaurus, the next level up on my scale of linguistic admiration is that of the quote.

I am addicted to adages, transfixed by truisms and wild about witticisms. In my opinion, reading the words that express other people’s wisdom in bite-sized format is an appealing approach to acquiring needed knowledge. The quotes I’m drawn to are powerful pearls of astute insight that have experienced countless retweets in the grand scope of the overall twittering universe we inhabit. Some have taken off like wildfire, a quick strike of a match that hungrily spreads from one combustible source to another, and others are smoldering embers—words that have been around like the coals of a dampened fire in the hearth—ready to be repeatedly brought back to heat-giving life in the morning, yet will continue a slow, hourly seep through the house of many minds.

Look through any bathroom in my house. You’ll find most of the reading material is short and quippy. I don’t encourage anyone to hunker down in there, but if you find it unavoidable, I hope the words invite you to ponder.

I’ve even taken to painting quotes on the walls of bathrooms and bedrooms because they’ve moved me to feel they deserve permanence within my humble abode.

Three quotes I feel worthy of daily reflection are:

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. ~  No one can count the apples in a seed.

Do not follow where the path may lead … go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

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And most importantly,

If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, or hear it with your own ears, don’t invent it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.

Okay, that last one is just another version of what was drilled in to me as a kid only in the less graceful form—You keep your nose out of other people’s business and they’ll keep their fist of your nose.

It worked for me.

As it is, everywhere I turn seems to sprout yet another worldly proverb or sagacious aphorism. Desperate to memorize these slick and savvy sayings, I’ve taken to writing them with a pen on my skin with the hopes that they’ll remain there long enough for the philosophy to penetrate before the ink departs.

If I went with the more indelible route–and tattooed myself with these many mottoes–I’d be a side show attraction at one of the county fairs. Plus, I’d rather not have small children run from me if I’m filled to the brim with all this wordy wisdom and no one to share it with.

I could start a Bookmobile that could rival my massive library system strictly with the number of volumes I possess that are only filled with the blunt, but brilliant quotes of others. They are everywhere around me: in my car, by my bedside, scattered across my desk, strapped to the belly of the dog for when we go take a walk and I’m in the mood to chew on a mouthful of metaphysics.

Everywhere.

These quotes are at the bottom of people’s emailed notes, on the first pages of great novels, spray-painted across the arch of a bridge, on the tear sheets of all my calendars, etched onto my bars of soap—that one isn’t the most cunning use of marketing dollars, but oh well, I suppose the point is that the shower is a reflective place.

And of course, I find laudable quotations from the world’s greatest source for anonymous pithiness with a pen: the public bathroom stall.

I’m not fussed where all this acumen comes from, or indignant from Oscar Wilde’s slight that the majority of us will never realize an original idea and only spout those from the cool kids of the past.

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I am prepared to receive the world’s collective enlightenment as it comes and from whichever direction it blows. There are an inordinate number of clever folks out there, adept at stringing together a sentence or two that have touched me to the very core.

I leave you with two last quotes and hope you might have one to share with me. The first I’m guessing might have been the rough draft of a speech somebody in Congress was about to deliver, but then ditched. The second is simply one I would have loved to have penned myself.

We, the unwilling,

led by the unknowing,

are doing the impossible

for the ungrateful.

We have done so much,

for so long,

with so little,

we are now qualified to do anything

with nothing.

And lastly,

Some people are like a slinky … not really good for anything, but you still can’t help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

~Shelley

 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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