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  1. Discouraged? These three magic words will make you feel better

    March 19, 2017 by Diane

    Words have power on wooden table

    Do you ever tell yourself…

    “I’m a failure,”

    or

    “My work is mediocre at best, I’ll never measure up,”

    or

    “I can’t make a living doing what I love, I’m wasting my time.”

    Do you hear words in your head that sound like your third-grade teacher, your high school coach, your fill-in-the-blank who doled out messages back in the day when you were a tender young sprout building dreams, words like:

    “You might fail, so why even try?”

    Those are words of envy, of someone who’s faced failure, cringed, and retreated. Those are words you absorbed and squirreled away and overheard in your head when you sat down to rewrite that novel, or compose that blog post, or start that home business, or face that empty canvas, or practice that trombone.

    Spit them out.

    They’re bitter. They need to be boiled down to an edible consistency so they’re easily digestible.

    Sometimes, those words are offered as a way to protect you from disappointment, like when you announced: “I’m quitting my job so I can write The Great American Novel, and I’ll support my family on the advance check alone.”

    Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’ve never said that to yourself. Or something like it.

    “I’m going to open a food truck, get discovered on Shark Tank, and open a fleet of food trucks.”

    Okay, somebody actually did that.

    The point is, sometimes our dreams get too big for their britches. Doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming them. We just need to decide where to best focus our energy.

    As a good friend recently told me, quoting the author of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System:

    And then there are the little dreams, like…

    Getting picked for the high school basketball team. Not.

    Getting that part-time job that paid more than your full-time job. Think again.

    Getting the lead in the local community theatre production. Know how to carry a spear?

    Disappointing, right?

    Makes you want to sink into the sofa with a Cotsco-size bag of Cheetos.

    Here’s another quote, from a Buddhist nun:

    When there’s a disappointment, I don’t know if it’s the end of the story. But it may be just the beginning of a great adventure. – Pema Chodron

    There will be times when we dream big and fall short, or try something and fail. Rather than wallow in discouragement, I’ve found the antidote. Three magic words. Three words so powerful, they erase any self-doubt, unstick any stuck places. Words so powerful, whenever you use them, you’ll shoot past that naysayer, you’ll straighten your spine and look that doubter dead in the eye and smile with knowing, then spread your fingers on the keyboard, the trombone keys, around that paint brush, and do what you were meant to do.

    What are those three magic words?

    At. This. Time.

    Huh?

    AT THIS TIME.

    I’m doing the best I know how, AT THIS TIME. With the skills and knowledge I have AT THIS TIME, I’m doing all I can do. As I acquire more skills and knowledge, I’ll do the best I can to at THAT time, which will be THIS time, only THEN.

    Confused?

    Yeah, me, too. But that’s okay.

    Those three magic words act like jet fuel when you’re on the fiftieth rewrite of a ten-page story.

    Oh, you don’t rewrite fifty times?

    Huh.

    Well, anyway, instead of rewriting fifty times like I do, you (or, ahem, I) can stop at the tenth time, saying, “Let it go. You’ve done the best you can do at this time,” then submit it to a literary journal. Off it goes!

    AT THIS TIME keeps you in the moment. Not somewhere in the future, or with Joe Schmo the bestselling author, or with Lucky Leo the ace tennis player. It keeps you with you, at your current level of experience.

    Now, that’s not to say you stay stuck in this moment forever. This moment becomes the next, and you flex your muscles a bit more, stretch a bit farther, and take the next step into the next moment, building your skills as you go. You’re in competition with nobody but yourself. Nobody else can fit in your shoes as long as you’re wearing them.

    So the next time you give your heart to a project and it doesn’t pan out, or your kid does something that leaves you doubting your parenting skills, or the cake you bake for your spouse’s birthday falls flat; the next time your blog post is anything less than stellar, or your rewrite is going badly, or your trombone-playing makes your brother lob a ball at your head; the next time your cold-calling results in a dozen hang-ups, or you slave over a report and your boss makes you do it over–don’t despair. Take a deep breath, straighten up, and say, “I did the best I could do. At this time.” And pat yourself on the back.

    Because the truth is, we’re all on a learning curve.

    And next time, we’ll do better.

    Now that you have those three magic words to propel you onward, what dream, big or pint-sized, will you take on this year? Tell me in the comments. 


  2. Squirrels in the Doohickey

    March 12, 2017 by Diane

    A subscriber to this blog encouraged her fellow bloggers to repost the first piece they ever posted. (Yeah, you, Sarah Brentyn.) So without further ado, here is my first ever post, from way back in April of 2013. And for those of you who’ve followed this blog since its inception, you deserve a medal. (Yeah, you, auntie Joan.)

    old-fashioned-tv

    It all started with the radio.

    We were doing fine, dwelling in the same living space, enjoying the same music. A little country, a little classical, a whole lot of evening jazz. We were relaxing to Beethoven and cooling off to Chris Botti and singing along with Blake Shelton and then, when I wandered over to the Big Band station, the radio turned itself off. A little Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman….click. Every time.

    The TV got wind of this. The TV decided to do its own brand of censoring.

    When I first hooked up the television I had a smorgasbord of stations. I was hooked. It saw that I was hooked. It knew that I could be spending my time on more productive endeavors, like rewriting my novel. So it started eliminating the stations one by one until I was left with one station.

    One station that aired the original Star Trek series and the old Dick Van Dyke show.

    Night after night I watched Bones and Spock and Kirk “…boldly go where no man has gone before,” and then I watched Dick come home from the office in his suit and tie, tumble over the hassock and get the wind knocked out of him.

    I checked the connections.

    I jiggled the cord.

    I called the people who are dedicated to fixing these problems, and a man wearing a hard hat drove up in a white van.

    He strapped on his tool belt.

    He clanked through the neighbors’ back yard.

    He clattered up the telephone pole.

    Twenty minutes later he was unstrapping his tool belt, flinging it into the back of the van and telling me I’ve got squirrels in the doohickey.

    “They’re building condos up there,” he said. “Sharpening their teeth on the wires. AT and T will want to replace all those wires running to the house. You can spring this on your landlady now,” he said, “or wait.”

    I opted to wait.

    Because I knew, I knew it had nothing to do with the wires; it had to do with the fact that my radio and TV were in cahoots. They were trying to control me.

    Okay…this is dysfunctional thinking. This is the kind of logic Bones might manufacture. Luckily, I had a Spock-like rational self who pointed out that the sensible thing to do was replace the radio and deal with the faulty wiring. Luckier still, I had a wise self, a Zen-like Captain Kirk, who suggested that the radio and TV were doing me a favor. They were telling me to spend less time tuning into them, and more time tuning into myself.

    So I did the mindful thing.

    I turned off the television.

    I pulled out the meditation bench.

    I settled down and straightened up and focused on my breathing and two minutes later I was channel-surfing in my head, my thoughts scampering around like squirrels in a doohickey, and I found myself wondering, what’s next? Will the blender regurgitate my breakfast smoothie? Will the vacuum cleaner suck up my faux fur slippers?

    It could happen.


  3. The Day I Said Yes to Everything

    March 5, 2017 by Diane

    Saturday morning started like any other; the radio popped on to classical music, forty-five minutes later I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, meditated, ate my breakfast bowl of oats and granola and ground flax seeds and sliced bananas and strawberries topped with oat milk…

    I won’t bore you with the details.

    The only difference between this Saturday and any other is that I pledged to say “yes” to everything.

    Everything?

    Everything.

    While preparing lunch in the kitchen…

    “The outside lamp isn’t working,” my landlady said, suddenly appearing at the end of the counter. “It might be the timer. I think it needs to be reset. Would you—?”

    “Yes! Right now!” I put down the knife.

    “Maybe I could stand over your shoulder and read the instructions out loud.”

    “Yes! Fantastic idea!”

    “I need my glasses.”

    “Yes!”

    “And a flashlight.”

    “Yes! Take your time. I’ll wait!”

    While eating lunch…

    I turned on the television. Two men were talking about turf grass.

    “Yes! I’ll watch this show!”

    They stood on a swath of lawn facing each other wearing nondescript clothes. In fact, both men were nondescript; if I had to pick them out of a line-up, and all ten men were wearing the same beige pants and aviator sunglasses, I wouldn’t be able to single out those two. But there they stood, face to face at a golf club, discussing turf grass.

    “What are the different types of grasses?” said the interviewer, the man on the left.

    The man on the right answered in the most monotonous tone allowable by law: “You’ve got your Fescues and you’ve got your Bermudas and you’ve got your Zoysia and you’ve got your Kentucky Bluegrass and you’ve got your St. Augustine…”

    The remote sat next to my hand. I could have changed the station. Due to the minuscule size of my cottage, I could have reached over and turned the television off. But I was transfixed. Two men discussing turf grass was so compelling, I lost all awareness of the food I was shoveling into my mouth.

    “We should get our clubs and test this grass,” the interviewer said, and both men strode purposefully toward the camera.

    The next shot, they were facing each other, on another swath of lawn, without their clubs.

    “Which grasses are best for homeowners?” said the man on the left.

    “You’ve got your Fescues and you’ve got your Bermudas,” on and on the man on the right droned. “For shade, you’ll want your St. Augustine.” His voice never rose or dipped. “In the south, you’ll want…” on and on, and I don’t know if it was the unfortunate way his pants were pleated, or how he stood with his right leg in front of his left, but he appeared to be—how can I phrase this delicately—extremely passionate about turf grass. It was hard not to notice his passion. It distracted me from the fascinating conversation, until the interviewer suggested that they get their clubs and try out the grass, and both men strode purposefully toward the camera.

    The next shot, they were facing each other, on another swath, discussing bugs. “How do you know which pests you have on your lawn?” said the man on the left.

    I won’t bore you with the details.

    But I will share this trick: You squirt dish soap into a bucket of warm water, and pour it onto the spots where you see pest damage. In one to five minutes, the bugs will surface.

    And this is where the action really picked up. Both men squatted onto their heels, and examined the turf.

    It was mole crickets.

    A whole show about turf grass! I sighed, watching the credits roll.

    While deciding what to do next…

    I had an hour to spare before meeting up with a friend. We’d made plans to catch “Murder She Said,” an Agatha Christie movie at the retro theater. I looked forward to the outing, although I doubted it could top the show about turf grass. With sixty minutes of free time, I faced a dilemma: should I work on my short story, or exercise?

    “Yes! I’ll do both!”

    I had wrenched my back earlier after reprogramming my landlady’s timer as she fumbled through the directions in the dim hallway, and on Saturdays I normally lift weights, but with those sore back muscles…

    “Yes! I’ll lift weights!”

    I bent over to fish the weights out from under the bed, and the muscles in my lower back went into spasm. I couldn’t move.

    Lying on the floor contemplating the ceiling, I decided it might be a good idea to stop saying “yes” to everything.

    To which I immediately said, “Yes!”