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‘Fer Cryin’ Out Loud’ Category

  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. 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!”


  3. Intrigue at the Laundromat

    February 26, 2017 by Diane

    Laundry machines in public laundromat

    I was at the laundromat on a Friday morning washing the big stuff—comforter, mattress cover—the stuff too big to cram into my landlady’s washer. It was just me and three others: a geeky-looking guy with earbuds reading a book on Communism; a woman covered in tattoos sorting through newspapers; and a blonde in a purple pants-suit standing at the dryers.

    While my stuff spun dry, I sat in my car with a clear shot of the laundromat, feet on the dash, reading a detective novel. Suddenly a cop breezed by my open window, marching a young guy in handcuffs straight through the laundromat, past the blonde who fell back a step, and out the door.

    I roused myself. “That was weird,” I said, checking my lumpy load in the dryer. I added a couple more quarters.

    The blonde looked over with worried eyes.

    “You know him?” I said.

    “He’s my fiancé.”

    “Oh. Gosh.”

    The geek and tattooed lady got real fascinated with their reading.

    The blonde looked out at the police car, at the guy in the back seat, his head turned away. She sighed a lot as she folded her sheets. The cop nosed around an RV parked nearby. I figured it belonged to the blonde and her fiancé; maybe they were on their way through town, decided to catch up on laundry and rip off a nearby liquor store. I wanted to know the story, but didn’t want to pry.

    Then again, maybe she needed to talk.

    “Are you okay?” I said. Stupid question.

    “It depends on what happens,” she said.

    I couldn’t read her; did she want a sympathetic ear, or did she want to be left alone? If I was a stranger in town and my fiancé got arrested, I’d want the sympathetic type to sort out the mess in my head. But not everyone wants a fix. An ear, yes. Not a mouth to go with it. So I kept mine shut, and hovered nearby in case she wanted to talk.

    She went back to sighing, snapping her towels as she folded them, occasionally glaring at her fiancé stuck in the heat. Was the cop making him sweat it out? Thirty minutes later, they drove away.

    By then, I had my feet back on the dash.

    The tattooed lady appeared to be doling out the sympathy, leaning one hand on the counter while the blonde folded clothes, nodding. Over the top of his book, the geek’s eyes darted behind hipster glasses.

    Sometimes, when I’m in a public place, I’ll think: what if a couple of thugs wearing ski masks burst through the doors right now waving their guns, ordered everyone to hit the floor, and then tied us up? We’re all strangers, and suddenly we’re bound together.

    I had that thought as I pondered the three I might be bound to, and zeroed in on the tattooed lady. I’d seen her arrive in a beat up four-door. A man dropped her off, staying just long enough to wrestle the heavy basket of dirty clothes from the trunk. Her husband, I’d assumed, or boyfriend, judging by the peck on her lips before he roared off, no doubt to do manly things involving a six-pack and football while she did the woman’s work. That’s the story I spun. Watching her with the blonde, the way she leaned in with legs firmly planted, then rested back against the giant dryer, arms folded, looking like she’d heard it all before, been there before, had come out wiser—she didn’t look like someone who took the backseat to any man. Shows how wrong you can be, judging people.

    I decided if I was held hostage in the laundromat, I’d want the tattooed lady tied to me.

    The next week, I scoured the papers for any mention of the arrest. Evidently it was so uneventful it didn’t warrant a sentence. I don’t like stories that leave me hanging. Why was the kid hauled away in handcuffs? Did the blonde forgive him? Did she bale him out, or leave him sitting in a jail cell while she drove the RV to the Sierras? Maybe the tattooed lady joined her on some wild Thelma and Louise adventure.

    And what about the hipster reading the communist book? There was something big there, something waiting to be discovered.

    If I was a detective, I might nose around some. But I’m a writer. I’ll leave it to my imagination.