ON_Reading

More memoir soon – this is just more musing on life.

One writing coach I worked with read my work and said, a seven year old would not use the words you are using in this piece, Torment and Metallic are not words a seven year old would use. She obviously didn’t know me very well.  She could have asked – why are you using this word here?  Did you know that word at seven? Instead she told me not to use them.

What that did for me is lead me to explain why I use the words I do in my writing. So thank you writing coach for pointing this out to me.

I had NINE older brothers and sisters and they are all VERY smart and yes they used the word TORMENT and METALLIC, so at seven, I had a big vocabulary thanks to my brothers and sisters.  And my last statement of explanation from my seven-year-old self – I’M NOT A BABY!

I like to read and sometimes I choose a book that is daunting, one that I know I will not understand for the pure pleasure of being okay with not understanding.

I’ve always loved reading and as a child in Michigan, I would go to the library as often as I was allowed, which was pretty much whenever I wanted, because no one was really paying THAT much attention.  I was on first name basis with the librarian – Sandy Sherba.  I don’t think she really like me though, I was after all the little girl with the rotten teeth.

I tired of reading children’s books and had read most all the books in the children’s/young adult section anyway – it was a small town, and a small library.

I browsed the adult literature section of the library, Sandy Sherba would shoo me out of there saying, “These books are for grown ups.”  When I tried to check out Beowulf, she said “No, how about you read something in your age group.” I then tried to check out The Yearling, which in fact is a Young Adult book, but it was categorized in the adult section because of the content.  “Find something in your age group, you are not old enough to understand this.”

How she knew what I would understand, I do not know.  Because I couldn’t check out the books I wanted, I’d steal a book out of the adult section and go hide somewhere in the library and read and read and read. I read, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Woolf, Sexton, Shakespeare. Most anything I could get my hands on.  I developed a secret love of poetry and would read page after page after page. Reading made me feel alive. I didn’t understand most of what I read, but I am certain it influenced me in some way. I knew I would understand it someday.

I still do this to this day, I read a lot, and sometimes I choose a book from a topic that I’m interested in that I know will be a challenge for me – like James Hillman, or James Joyce – mind melting works.  The first time I read Marion Woodman, I thought to myself what in the hell is she even talking about here? Years/months later when I pick up the book again, I realize I gained something because when I begin to re-read, I understand it, or at least some of it.  I love how that works.

Maybe this too increased my vocabulary.

What about you? What do you read? Does what I’m saying make any sense?

July_1974_EATING_PLASTER

As promised last month – here is an excerpt from my memoir.  Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you.  

LIFE is about connection

Follow the threads, follow the connection – what led you to here? And to hear? And what do YOU hear?

For a few short moments before posting this, I had to relax my breathing, remember, that this too is part of the story, my story.  I then went to Twitter, you know – to distract myself and a message from the universe appeared – I’m headed in the right direction.

From Anne Lamott – You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.      

~July 1974~

I am lying in Momma’s bed, which is my bed too. I am four and wearing my pink nightgown. I don’t like pink, but since I’m a girl I have to wear it. My blond hair is ratty and laying on the pillow.  I don’t like to comb it, ever.  My mouth is crusty on the side from drooling through the night. I have one of my stick legs kicked out of the covers because I get hot sometimes.

The queen-sized bed is parked in the left corner of the room against the wall.  I sleep closest to the wall so I won’t fall out of the bed.  I never thought I would fall out of bed, but Momma says “Gaaddamn it, move over or you’ll fall right out.”  One of Momma’s favorite words is “Gaaddamn it”, with an A drawn out right in the beginning, she strings it on to the front or end of most any sentence.  Her favorite is when she’s trying to yell at one of us and can’t get to the right name fast enough, “Billy, Jenny, Patrick, Michael, Peggy….Gaaddamn it, Amy Beth!”

I stay in the middle as best I can. Momma sleeps near the window and I’m glad because if anyone ever breaks in, she’ll get them before they get me. She’s tough.  She had me when she was 46. She says “No one has a normal baby at 46, most of them come out retarded.”  She can also knock you into next week with one backhand and that means strong.

Momma has a few things on the top of the brown wooden headboard.  A bobby pin, which she uses to clean her ears in the morning, a jelly jar full of water that is mine that I drink out of when I get thirsty at night and her reading glasses which are smeared and greasy on the front. I don’t know how she sees out of them.  She once let me try them.  They made me blind. If I touch the bobby pin or glasses, she gets so mad at me and yells loud. “Gaaddamn it Amy Beth – if I told you once, I told you a hundred times. Don’t touch my Gaaddamn glasses.”

I am the last of Momma’s ten babies, and the last always sleeps with Momma, there isn’t room anywhere else.  There is only one real bedroom in our house.  It is at the top of the stairs, that Momma can’t climb because she is too fat.  If we’re trying to get away from Momma that’s where we go – right up those stairs.  Outside of that room is a landing where there are 3 more beds.  Downstairs behind the kitchen is a pantry that we use as a bedroom.  The pantry, the bathroom and the room upstairs have doors on them. None of the other rooms do. Momma’s room is big and wide with 3 windows, but it is not really a bedroom, it is more like a living room or something else, but we use it as a bedroom.  There is a walk-in closet sized room off of Momma’s room that my oldest brother Mark sleeps in.

When I wake up and am scared at night I twirl a ringlet of Momma’s hair between two fingers.  It is smooth and silky.  I want to put my whole face in her hair to be close to her.   I never get very much time alone with her, except here – in the bed, in the middle of the night, she is all mine. Sometimes, I twirl her hair too tight and she wakes up and yells “Gaaddamn it, what are you doing!?” and then falls right back asleep.

In bed, short rays of sun dance in through the windows, shining spots onto my blanket. I stare at the wall where there is plaster missing. Chunks of plaster are missing from the walls in spots all over the house. Some are small, like my hand, others are as big as my whole body.  In the places where the plaster is missing I can see thin boards that are rough and splintery, in between them there is gray rocky plaster. I am not supposed to pick at it.

When Momma is out of the bed and I am alone, I do pick at the plaster.  I hold my hands down as long as I can, but they just want to pull that plaster out. I try to see if I can pull out long pieces without breaking them. My finger is just the right size to fit in the space between the boards. The plaster is cool on my warm hands, rough, but falls apart easy.  I line up the pieces I pull out of the wall on the bed next to me, brushing the crumbs onto the floor.  Sometimes plaster falls back into the wall where no one will ever see it.

There are thin gray hairs in the plaster.  My brother, Bobby, who is next oldest to me, 5 years older, tells me “There is horse hair in that plaster.”  I don’t believe him, because he also tells me that a tiny little witch lives in the knot, which looks like a tiny little door, in the giant maple tree by the Arnold house, 3 houses down from ours.  I don’t walk past the front of that tiny little door by myself though, just in case he is right.

After lining the pieces up, I imagine they are rock candy.  I lift each one as soft as I can and bite the end of it. I like the longest pieces best, fully formed and taken from their home in the wall. Biting off the end of a long piece is the best feeling in the whole world.

They taste like what I think chalk might taste like.  I know not to eat chalk, but I can’t help from eating the plaster.  I try not to as hard as I can, but I love the gritty feel and the crunching it makes when I bite down on it with my small black teeth.  Most people have white teeth, but mine are white and black.  Rotten.

I am careful to hide the pieces behind the blanket because if I get caught I will get the paddle.  I don’t know why I get the paddle for eating plaster, I can’t help but eat it.

Bobby walks in the room. He is taller than me with sparkly blue eyes, a mop of blond hair that swoops down on the left side of his face and freckles on his nose.  I hurry and cover the pieces of plaster, my mouth is full of it though and he sees me.

“Mom, Amy’s eating the plaster again!” He yells behind him, flat, focused, as if he sees me doing this every day.

“It’s going to rot your teeth out you know?”

I don’t know that it’s going to rot my teeth out, they are already rotten and I hardly ever eat plaster.

Momma comes in the room marching her fat body over to the bed, snatches back the covers and looks at me with her serious sad face and saggy skin hanging down, her black and gray curls bouncing around.

She looks sad and then angry, “Gaaddamn it, quit picking at the plaster, you kids will ruin this Gaaddamn house one day. Amy Beth, I told you to stop eating that goddamn plaster. Now get out of that bed.”

Bobby sticks his tongue out at me.

Momma grabs my arm, her short fingernails biting into me through my nightgown and yanks me out of the bed and onto my feet on the floor in front of her.

I finish crunching my plaster.

“Momma, I don’t want to eat it, I have to.” I look up at her with the saddest eyes I know how to make.

“I’ll teach you to eat that plaster, I’ve warned you enough.”

I drag my feet as she keeps hold of my arm and pulls me into the living room, which is just outside our bedroom.

“No Momma, no Momma, please no Momma.” I cry before the paddle is even down off the hook.

The paddle is made of wood.  On one side it has a saying on it that I can’t read and some kids standing against a fence with their butts out like they are about to get spanked.  On the other side Momma has written the names of every person she has ever spanked with that paddle.  The list goes all the way down. Linda, Brian, Kloosie, Joey, Chrissy, Billy, Jon Jon, Heather, Kelly, Denise, Tom…so many I can’t keep count.

If Momma likes you, she hits you nice and soft.  If Momma’s mad, she hits you mean and hard.  She’s always hitting someone with something, whatever is closest, she’ll throw things too and she has a good aim. She’ll spank a neighbor kid as fast as she’ll spank any of us and then send them home saying “Go ahead and tell your Momma I spanked you and see if she doesn’t hit you too.”

I put my hands over my butt so she won’t swing the paddle.

“Move ‘em, or I’ll hit ‘em!”

“No Momma, I’ll be good I promise.” I cry

“I’ve warned you enough, now move ‘em.”

I hear the paddle swing back through the air and move my hands just as it reaches my butt.

I jump forward a little, but Momma still has my arm so I can’t get away.  Smack, it stings and I feel the heat of the stinging run out and down my legs, smack, smack, smack.

Five times.

She turns my arm loose and I fall on the ground crying as loud as I can.

Momma puts the paddle back on the hook and walks toward the kitchen.

Bobby stands over and whispers. “I told you not to eat the plaster.”

Momma hears him and yells back toward us “You’ll be next it if you don’t stop it Mister.” And I laugh through my tears. I laugh.

~

It was a different time, it was a different place, I can make all the excuses in the world for my Mother, but when it comes down to it, she didn’t know what else to do. I suppose, if I had lived her life, I may have been the same. A man who she kept getting pregnant with, and him never fully being responsible for us kids – he was married to someone else, little income, ten kids, a 9th grade education, depression, worry, worry.  She was a victim of her own circumstance, but she didn’t have the skills or the courage to do anything else. She had her reasons for being sad, miserable and for lashing out when she’d had enough.

I used to be afraid to talk about my story, other than making fun of myself and of how I grew up, not realizing that it was terrible to do that. My psyche suffered for years. I now have compassion and empathy for the me that was and for the work that I had to do as an adult to become less caught up in this old story.  I used to think if people FOUND OUT who I was, everything I was working toward and even my identity could be taken away.  I don’t think I even had an identity, I was just muddling along, muddling along, doing the things everyone does, job, home, tv, blah, blah, blah.  I was powerless. In time and through therapy, reading, and believing, I’ve realized that I am powerful and I make my own destiny, I do not have to go back and no one can take this away from me, ever, unless I choose to let them.

For those who say forget your past and move on, I believe there is something valuable at examining your past and figuring out why you do the things you do. Figuring out the why I do it in most everything, has become a passion for me. Sometimes when you find the answer to the why, you don’t need to do it anymore.

By examining the past, I can decide if the story makes me who I am or is just a story that is holding me back from being more alive, a story that creates anxiety. I can decide if I want to change it or keep it. The stories don’t have to keep hurting you forever; you can unravel the mystery.

In writing this particular story I did unravel a mystery, Gypsum, which is in horsehair plaster, reduces fever, according to Chinese medicine.  I always kicked my leg out of the bed, maybe I had a fever and my four-year-old body was craving what it needed to do to cool it.  Gypsum.  I now know to listen to my body – thankfully at the moment, it is not craving plaster.

My whole life has been pushing me to this moment – where I can say, I’m me and that’s all that matters and I know who I am and what I want in the world.

I am not a victim. I got out of there. I have the skills to figure it out.

I do believe my life’s experiences made me who I am today – and I kind-a like who I am today. My past is the reason today – I am fierce in my life, I LOVE fully, and I LIVE fully, without regret. Live.

For some reason, I got out of where I was, not everyone does, but hopefully I can help people see that you can change your life, even if it feels like it is too late, even if you had a wonderful childhood but life feels like it sucks right now, you can change it.  If you don’t like how your life is – Change IT.

And I know I’m constantly quoting Danielle LaPorte, but – You can’t face forward until you’ve processed your past.  

And then I shivered, I’m headed in the right direction.

What do you hear when you tell yourself some story from your past?  How does it make you feel? 

~

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE.

~

Two notes about this writing session and all future writing sessions that are memoir related, this is my memory of how things were. I have a big family and I’m sure they may remember some things differently or they may remember things that I don’t.  All names have been changed, other than mine, Bobby and Michael’s.  Bobby and Michael – didn’t get out. They died in 1996 and 1991 respectively – more on that in another session.

How I Chase THE DREAM

For me life is about unraveling threads, unlocking secrets, seeking truth in mystery.

What does that mean?

This is how it looks for me, I’ve been meeting with people and talking to people about work and how I might work with them, on this, or that, or the other thing.

I’m not forcing any of it, I ask the question, or I put my information out there – do you want to meet?  Do you want to start the conversation?

Some things flow easily, people say yes or call me, other people stall, don’t get back to me. I’m can’t worry about any of it.  The right thing will come – there is no need to push.

Some might assume that I’m not worried because I have money in the bank, yada, yada – that’s not true – I do need to work – but I don’t just want WORK, I want something meaningful and if you want something meaningful, you have to be selective. Remember, it’s YOUR CHOICE.

I also have learned from years of experience that the next thing ALWAYS appears, not in the time you want it to, but exactly at the right time.

I also have a clear vision of my future and some things just don’t fit with that, so –sometimes you have to take one step back – to take FIVE steps forward.

Don’t get me wrong – if there something I really want and am really interested in, I’m tenacious about follow up and follow through, sometimes you have to try and try again to get someone’s attention, but I prefer to follow the things that want to be followed instead of chasing an elusive dream.

Chase the dream that has energy flowing right now, the elusive one will eventually come around.

But – what if you don’t know what your dream is?  What if you aren’t clear what you want?

Listen to yourself –

Think or write about what your ideal future looks like. Picture it, write it, draw it. In this moment what do you want?

The key is not to find images, but to find images that convey exactly what your ideal life looks like. Capture the emotion of it, make it concrete.  As Danielle Laporte says – how do you want to feel? This is a good start, but I’ll add that seeing it the way you want it to be is helpful as well.

A vision. Create a vision of the future, not the kind that says, I want to feel wealthy, but envision what that looks like to you. It might be – I want to take four vacations a year to exotic places.

Things start to change when you start creating vision, don’t ask me how it works – it’s the mystery part.

Create your own path to where you want to be – easy – simple – clear. First step –Envision it.

Now join me AND GO! What’s your vision?

Don’t GIVE UP

This morning I was ready to give up the dream and go back to NOT doing what I want to do, but just doing something, anything – someone please give me a job and tell me what I should be doing with my life, instead of leaving me here to figure it out on my own.

Someone?

Anyone?

Hello?

There’s no one there.

Here’s what making your life the way you want it looks like.

1 part LOVE, 1 part PAIN, 1 part AGONY – the outcome is delicious, at least I think it will be, which makes it all worthwhile, but there is no easy way. The ease is in letting go and trusting that it’s all going to work.

In the moments of soaring courage and devotion to making IT happen, you gotta stay, be present, be alive, don’t give up, have courage, go with IT.

In the moments of desperation, the I can’t, I don’t want to, I won’t, it’s not going to work.  That’s when you need to give up.  Give up thinking about those things, they have their place – let them come in and go back right where they came from.

I heard recently that a high school acquaintance died – poof.  Gone.

It reinforces my thinking that today is the only day we have – and today – I’m going to love my life, whether it is good or bad.  Today, I’m going to work on making my life the way I want it. To allow PASSION to drive me and not FEAR.

TODAY is the only day we HAVE.

Today – Love Your Life. Don’t give up – everything you were hoping for can come true.

What’s your passion? What one thing can you do today that will move you toward what you want?

For_theshadow

BEFORE - ON THE LEFT

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious ~ Carl Jung

The shadow – according to Jung – is the repressed part of the unconscious.  The shadow is everything you don’t want to admit about yourself, or to be, but are usually quite clear when you see it in someone else.

You know that guy at work that makes you so mad when he does that one thing – if you aren’t trying to bring the dark parts of you into the light – you might be seeing in him – the repressed part of yourself – that you find annoying – the shadow.

It’s easy to project our shadow onto everyone other than ourselves. We all do it and it’s a normal thing. So what’s the big deal?

If we take the time to recognize the shadow in ourselves, we find that we can move forward in life and the parts we like about ourselves get better too.  We become less fearful of being found out, of our shadow taking over.

I was afraid of becoming THE FAT GIRL and when I looked in the mirror and was starting to see THAT FAT GIRL, I knew the shadow part of me, that is afraid, was taking over and making me bigger than I needed to be. It’s how I was coping with some things I didn’t want to change, but were making me miserable.  I decided to get to know that fat girl and ask her to exercise with me.  Instead of beating her up, I invited her in.

While running on a sunny day I noticed that my shadow, which I seldom see in rainy Portland, was large – I didn’t recognize myself. It became a metaphor for me – an indicator for change.  As I began to deal with my shadow and uncover and admit my dark and scary places, by exercising, by asking myself the question – what do you really want?, by working on my “issues”.  I saw my shadow shrink.

When I invited my shadow in, it stopped holding me back. Instead of being in the shadow, I could step into the sun. When I was in doubt that I was on the right path – I took a look at my shadow. Big or small?

If you are willing to accept yourself with all of the dark and scary things as well as the good things, you can speak from a new place – without fear of the dark parts of you being discovered and uncovered by someone else. It’s kind of like not keeping secrets from yourself anymore.  Recognizing who you are and being okay with it.

Ignoring your shadow doesn’t make life easier, it forces us to be critical of other people.

Who looks outside, dreams… who looks inside, awakes. ~ Carl Jung

When I bump up against someone who rubs me the wrong way, I’ve started to ask this question and begin an inner dialogue with myself, what part of me do I see in them?  

Why do I hate that guy so much?
Oh, well I think he’s a fraud and not living up to what he’s been asked.
BAM – there it is, it’s something I’m afraid for myself.  Afraid to be a fraud?
I proclaim to be authentic, but what if I’m not?  The opposite of authentic to me is disingenuous, which also means – FRAUD.
So, how can I accept that at times I might be a fraud or afraid of being a fraud.

AFTER

Be ME. Truly me. That is not fraud, don’t fake it. Be ME. Ask yourself what you really want, have a dialogue with the part of you that you don’t like, INVITE HER IN.

Celebrate who you are in all your goodness and all your terribleness, we’re all broken bits. We can all change, but we shouldn’t be so critical of the bad parts of ourselves, we can’t always be good.

The more you honor your shadow, the better you are going to feel. I got your number shadow, I’m going to get to know you.

How is your shadow holding you back? What are you afraid of? 

For_Mothering

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

from When Death Comes ~ Mary Oliver


I knew my mother for almost twenty years.
As of three days ago, she’s been gone twenty-two.

In that time I have learned to be my own Mother.
A good Mother and a CHALLENGING Mother.
I have asked time and again how she would have spoken to me or laughed with me
And the answer is – silence.
I was sad to lose her so early, but also fortunate – it has taught me to be more alive.
More myself, there was no Mother to influence me, so I had to be ME, on my own

ME. ALIVE.

In that time I have taught myself things she could not in the twenty years I knew her – to not be afraid, to have courage, to stand up sometimes – even when I’m told to sit, to say NO when I don’t want to do something, to say YES when I really want it!, to believe in myself, to believe that everything is possible.

All things that were hard for her – are no longer hard for me. Maybe, I’ve healed us both in the work I’ve done to Mother myself. I hope so.

Every year I think, “I’ll forget this year”, or I’ll not be reminded of the grief that took me nearly 15 years to overcome. But then April 7th comes around and I think of her, and now, because I am a good Mother to myself, I no longer try to stuff it away, and forget, instead I honor her, even if only in my thoughts.  I honor her –  good and bad – and the life she lived and think about the one she could have had.

I am grateful for having known her and grateful that she left me in time for me to become me. 

Maybe your Mother was there in person, but absent? Or was there and oppressive? Or was never around at all? Or Mothered you fiercely in the exact right way? Or maybe you just don’t relate to one another?

In any case, I think taking care of yourself is a good skill to have.

How do you Mother your own self? 

NINE Principles for PREMIUM Client Service

What is premium service? It’s relative, depending on what service you are seeking, but if you are in the premium service business, or want to be – there are universal principles.

These have likely been stated by others, but here is my take on them.

If you are in the premium service business, these should be requirements, not suggestions.

ONE. The person in front of you is the most important person in the world. The person on the phone is second and the person on email is third.  NO exceptions. Take care of them in the order above. NO exceptions.

TWO. Answer all your emails and phone calls within two hours of receiving during business hours, unless you are on a plane. If you are on a plane without WiFi, be sure to have your out of office activated. Check email once each day on the weekends. If you can’t accomplish this you have too much on your plate – hire someone to help.

THREE. Try your best to use positive language when communicating with clients.  Instead of saying – No, we can’t do that in that timeline. Say YES!, we’ll create an aggressive and attainable schedule. Or instead of saying, that’s management’s call, I can’t make that call. SAY I understand your frustration, let me see what I can do for you…AND then DO SOMETHING.

FOUR. Don’t defer to your boss if you know what your boss is going to say.  Make it right. NOW.  Take responsibility, your boss will love you and so will your client. If you can’t make it right now – do not argue, question or anything else, drop it and take their information so that the appropriate person can contact them.

FIVE. If you offer a premium service, always charge a premium price. Never sell your company short for something you do well or a product you deliver. NEVER have a sale, unless you are desperate, that’s what a sale says.  Our product/company/people aren’t worth what we thought, let’s discount it. Exception to the rule: client appreciation day, a single day sale per year or something similar. YOU ARE VALUABLE – stay that way.

SIX. Treat people fairly, they are your customer/client, you want them to like you. Refund anything people don’t want or like, it’s easy.

SEVEN. Know your regular clients likes and dislikes, so you don’t end up suggesting, offering, or giving something meaningless to them.  Which brings me to…

EIGHT.  Create meaningful relationships between you and your client. They love your product, service, idea, get to know why and how you can make it a richer experience for them.

NINE. Don’t be fake! Be the real you. Don’t try to create a meaningful relationship.  Either do it or don’t. If you don’t like doing this, hire someone who does. Your business and clients will thank you.

What would you add to this list?