Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 27, 2013

Mr. Ashbury has a new best friend.

As you know, I was absent from home last week - away on a writers' retreat that had been more than a year in the planning. Mr. Ashbury himself had gone to the Caribbean in October for a week with our daughter. This is not unheard for us, to take separate vacations. We've never lived in each others' pockets. As a matter of fact, many nights at home we spend a fair bit of time in the course of the evening involved in our individual pursuits, rarely talking. What might seem odd to some people works for us, and has for more than 40 years.

When I returned home on Saturday, my daughter intimated that her father had been unusually lonely while I was gone this time. She had been concerned because he told her that he went to bed each night before 10. That's really not unusual for either of us, but she was worried. And she took the opportunity to reiterate to me that daddy really, really needs another dog.

At the dawn of this new decade, and then again just last year when my beloved and I were talking about our animals, and acknowledging that our faithful Rochie was getting old, my beloved stated, most emphatically, that once the poor pup was gone, there would be no more dogs in this house. I happened to agree with him, for we've had dogs consistently throughout our marriage. He wants to continue to travel, and having animals that require care by others when we are gone is a challenge to that.

The reality of the situation, however, has proven to be quite different than the hypothetical discussions. My husband, pure and simply misses his dog greatly. He misses the routine of a dog, and the companionship. He'd been getting some of that with my daughter's Chihuahuas. And as she has been thinking, out loud, about breeding her dogs, my beloved has been discussing—with her—the possibility of his taking one of those pups.

But that is a year or more in the future, and, it seemed to our daughter that her father was lonely now and needed a new best friend as soon as possible.

Sunday she came over and showed her daddy a picture of just the kind of dog he'd said he'd like this time - something small and fluffy. The puppy was a "Morkie", which is a Maltese/Yorkie cross. I had never heard of the breed before but the little guy sure looked cute. She asked me if she should get it for her dad, and I told her to discuss it with him.

One two-part rule that my beloved and I both hold sacred: neither of us presumes to speak on behalf of the other, and neither one of us ever tells the other what to do.

In light of our past discussions and recalling in particular his vehemence, I expected my husband to say no, but he surprised me and said yes.

Now here is where you learn just how old fashioned a wife I really am. Even though we'd agreed, and even though I'm not certain this is a commitment that I want to undertake, my husband wanted that puppy. Because he wanted it, he should have it. Period.

The little guy arrived a few hours later, joining our family Sunday afternoon. The new addition is 8 weeks old, and has come complete with his first and second set of “shots”. He doesn’t weigh much more than a pound, and will not, when fully grown, weigh much more than 5. Mr. Ashbury has named him "Tuffy", short for "tough guy".

My beloved's sense of humor is finely honed, and I can report to you, that when the two met face to face it was a case of mutual love at first sight.

I think my beloved would take the little guy to work with him if he could.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20, 2013

First, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear. I did not bring the cold weather of the last few days to Florida with me. If I thought for one moment that I had, I would indeed stand up and say so, because I do believe in taking personal responsibility for myself, and my actions.

Yes, these words on this Wednesday are coming to you from the great state of Florida. I am currently in Cocoa Beach. I’ve been in Florida since Saturday and had been staying with one of my writing friends for a few days. We’re having a visit and a writing retreat all rolled into one. We’ve moved to a hotel so that we could take in the ocean. Nothing invigorates me like being near water!

As I’ve said many times, there is nothing that quite compares to being with fellow authors, and so I seize any chance to surround myself with like-obsessed individuals. People who will not turn a hair if you say, “huh, who knew my character was going to say that?” When you’re an author spending time with fellow authors, you don’t have to explain yourself. When you’re chatting –about writing, of course—and then suddenly that bit of inspiration hits, and you turn to your keyboard and begin, really quite frantically, to pound those keys, leaving that conversation in mid sentence…well, that’s ok. Nobody minds, or holds it against you.

I need these breaks more than I have words to express. I need to feel surrounded by and immersed in the compassion of my fellow wordsmiths. Writing is a damned lonely profession, for all that it is the great passion of my life. I really don’t have many friends, because I really am a shy introvert at heart. Except for two long time girlfriends that I touch base with from time to time, my writing friends are it for me.

As the youngest child of three, I became the lonely, withdrawn one—my sister and brother are six and ten years older than I am, respectively. After my father’s passing when I was just 8, I felt that sense of being alone even more keenly.

No matter how hard we try to eradicate our formative years from our psyches, I do believe we carry a tiny bit of the child we were inside of us for the rest of our lives. Sometimes—and often without our conscious awareness or consent—that inner child emerges.

In addition to the shy child I was, for some reason, I never really had many girlfriends during my growing up years. Being shy is not conducive to making friends. In addition, I seemed to have the worst luck with picking girlfriends, most of the time.

I would inevitably choose as my friends girls who, for reasons I could never fathom, seemed to need to play games—power games, I guess—and the next thing I would know, I’d be cut out of the “herd” and once more be on the outside, looking in.

Once more reduced to that lonely and withdrawn child I once had been.

That trend followed me into adulthood, much to my annoyance.

Looking back over my life now, I believe my naiveté persisted and yes, persists, in making me believe that everyone was and is as open and transparent as I [y’all know me by now, warts and all]. I could never really see those warning signs, those tells, and thus I was and continue to be unprepared for the inevitable “surprise” when someone I counted a friend does something very un-friend like.

For the most part however, life really is terrific now. I may still get the occasional unpleasant surprise, but I am learning the lesson I needed to learn all of my life, and that was to not let the barbs, or the machinations of others affect me, personally. I have in recent times been rewarded with true friends. I know who they are! And I can count on them to remind me, when I need reminding, to “be the duck”.

And I’m especially lucky that my true friends are also authors, and Christians, and finally, and at long, long last, the beloved sisters my heart has hungered for.

I am, as I have said many times, blessed and highly favored.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February 13, 2013

You’ve got to love that guy, Anonymous, don’t you? What a clever fellow he was! If you Google “sayings by anonymous” there’re quite a few, really. If you’re a fan of irony, as I am, you’ll love this one, attributed to him: write a wise saying and your name will live forever.

Mr. Ashbury and I got quite a chuckle out of that one.

My personal favorite saying/quote/maxim of all time from anonymous is one I heard about twenty years ago and have repeated to myself periodically ever since: life is 5% what happens to me and 95% how I deal with it.

I guess this quote is my favorite because I am a great believer in personal responsibility—in standing up and taking the reins of my life in my own hands. For those who may be reading this essay who aren’t, I give you the following testimonial. I am 58 years old and I have often been wrong, or made mistakes. I’ve said, “I’m sorry, I was wrong,” and, “I’m sorry, I screwed up,” and even, “I have no excuse. I just messed up.” And guess what? It didn’t kill me, or hurt me (well except in my pride but I generally need a good swift kick there every once in a while anyway). I suffered no ill effects from saying, basically, “it’s my fault, I did it.”

I’ve discovered that honesty and apologies cost me nothing whatsoever, and even have the side benefits of not only making me feel better inside, but garnering me some invaluable goodwill from others.

Unfortunately, owning up and making amends is a dying art, apparently.

Can we please get back to that place where everyone’s taking responsibility for themselves and their actions was the norm? Can we get back to using common sense, and to helping others just because we can and because it’s the right thing to do? And can we please put a lid on our bitching about how hard everything is, and open instead the box marked “Innovations and solutions found here”?

Can we accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, just as that old song suggested?

Life is hard. I happen to believe it is meant to be hard. That’s how we grow, that’s how we learn the lessons we’re meant to learn. There is work to be done, and in the process, we’re going to get tired, we’re going to ache, and we’re going to suffer frustration.

Those are the real facts of life.

But we don’t need to let those harsher aspects of living define us. We certainly don’t need to let them limit our possibilities.

I loved my mother. She wasn’t at all what you’d call a nurturing kind of woman. She had difficulty expressing her emotions—I can count on the fingers of both hands the number of times she hugged me. She put the lion’s share of her energy into her job—she was a registered nurse—but she did that because her husband—our father—had died and she felt keenly her responsibility to provide for us. She was a widow who, for the rest of her time on earth, before she joined my father—just 13 years—mourned her husband deeply and unceasingly.

She had many very fine qualities. I learned from those. I also learned from the one or two aspects of her personality that weren’t quite so stellar.

My mother suffered from severe osteoarthritis. Hers was so bad in her knees that her legs became somewhat deformed. In the last couple of years of her life—she died very young, just two months shy of her 57th birthday—she underwent surgery to correct this condition.

Prior to that, she was in a tremendous amount of pain, and I can recall vividly listening to her moaning and/or crying in the evening. I would be upstairs in my bed, and she downstairs at the kitchen table. I can recall her saying, many times, “this sure isn’t much of a life”.

I understood it wasn’t just the physical pain that made her say things like that. To be a teenager bearing witness to this broke my heart. I wished, with all that was in me, that I could have helped her in some way. I even remember praying and asking God to take her pain from her and give it to me. Of course, I never really expected to be in a similar position, suffering from the same affliction and dealing with unremitting pain, so many years later.

But I am, and I understand her and what she went through a bit better now, but my attitude is different. Because I’ve discovered that focusing on the pain doesn’t relieve it; it exacerbates it. And I’ve discovered, too, that I could say to myself, “this isn’t much of a life”. Or I can choose not to. Of course, there are moments, especially if I’m tired, when my resolve falters, and it all seems a bit too much to take. But those are only moments, and I keep them to myself.

It’s okay to sit on the pity pot for a few minutes every once in a while, as long as I flush when I am done.

Because my life really is 5 per cent what happens to me, and 95 per cent how I choose to deal with it. And I choose, whenever anyone asks me how I am to say, “I’m terrific!”

And I mean it, too.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

February 6, 2013

As much as I manage to “keep up” with the changes in technology in these modern times, there are still moments when I am held completely in awe.

There was an item online the last couple of days. You may have seen it. It wasn’t even really immediate news, and yet there it was taking up cyberspace. Apparently, last year, in the city of Leicester, in England, human remains were discovered under a parking lot. I guess that sort of thing happens a lot in England and Europe. Their recorded history is far more extensive than ours.

Most often here, in North America, if someone is demolishing a building or digging a new foundation and they discover bones, the question that comes most often to mind is, “did I just find a recent murder victim?” Over on the other side of the pond, where recorded history stretches much further back, other questions come to mind.

They must have had some suspicions on who those bones belonged to, because they conducted DNA tests in order to be sure. Those tests have now confirmed that the remains discovered are of King Richard III.

That in itself is pretty impressive, don’t you think? That hundreds of years after a man is dead, his descendants (how many generations removed is that, anyway?) can provide a sample to prove genealogy.

Better yet, and what certainly gave me a few creepy moments, was the fact that the bones included the skull, and with modern scientific means, experts were able to perform a “facial reconstruction”—giving us a fairly accurate likeness of what this not-so-glorious king actually looked like.

Holy time travel, Batman.

When I first set eyes on that reconstruction, knowing that it wasn’t a painting created in his day and influenced by the painter’s own bias, I shivered. It just seemed so other-worldly to me that such a thing is possible—that I could be looking at the actual face of a long dead person.

Of course, I’ve long known about the science of facial reconstruction. I know it has been used to help identify bodies when no other means has worked. I understand the concept. Heck, I’ve even read fiction in which the heroine was just such a scientist/artist. It’s just that to use this method to give us a picture of someone dead for so long—someone I studied in high school and who Shakespeare used in a play, is eerie.

At least it is to me.

I’m kicking at the gate of 60, and the world has changed so much just in my lifetime. It’s no wonder to me that older people begin to feel disconnected. It’s really hard to keep up.

The most notable area, of course, where the enormity of this “change” has become manifest, is in this thing, right here. The computer. I joke with friends and family that my first computer was an abacas.

Only it’s not a joke.

Thirty years ago, there was no Internet. The significance of that for me is profound. Today, I make my living on the Internet, and in fact, this computer of mine and the various places and people it connects me to quite literally make up my life.

Of all the things for which I’m grateful, this is the biggest: that for the most part, if I’m not right on top of all the new developments coming down the pike, I’m at least connected.

I can at least see the contrails of the speeding jet before me.