Life is Not a Box of Chocolates

Ah. Spring has arrived according to my calendar. For some people that means planting a garden, seeing new flowers and life emerge, putting the gloom of winter behind.

But I’ve been gardening since January and watching life emerge year round for so long now, spring no longer holds that distinction for me.

I do begin to think about Easter, however. And with thoughts of Easter, the smell of all of those chocolate Easter bunnies and other candies that await our pleasure. Jelly beans are personally my favorite any more, especially the intense ones like Jelly Belly and Sweetart.

Today, as I read through my Facebook posts welcoming spring to the world with thoughts of chocolate on my mind, the well known quote from Forest Gump popped into my head.

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

And while that is true to a point, these days it misses the mark. Comparing life to a box of chocolates implies that we have a choice about what we get. If you take a box of chocolates, you pick which one you want to eat and, unless you read the diagram in the box lid, you are surprised by what the filling might be.

However, life isn’t as cut and dry as that. The world rarely presents itself in a neat orderly package with each choice held in a paper cup awaiting our decision.

Oh, that it would be so …

Instead, life is more like a bowl of soup which we must dive into head first. Some days that soup is thin and watery, like miso with a lone mushroom floating on the surface. Other days it’s more like a thick gloppy stew filled with chunks of potato that cling like molten lava to the roof of our mouths. Most days, it’s somewhere in between.

We are inundated daily by opinions, viewpoints, research, facts, philosophies, ideas, projects, concerns, goals, memes, etc. all stirred together into a gelatinous ooze that we must pick our way through. We are invited to believe this, think that, participate here, give there … to dole ourselves out sliver by sliver until every aspect of our lives are neatly arranged and organized.

But humans don’t work that way.

Humans are messy and so is life.

So you might as well dive in to the soup, find what you love, and do it as passionately as you can.

No, Forest, Life is not like a box of chocolates. It’s like a big bowl of soup. Warm and enriching and filled with all the things that we need to get through the day.

How to NOT Write a Novel

How NOT to Write a Novel

First, you will need to have an idea what you want to write about. A true tale morphed into fiction? A vampire romance? That edgy thriller that takes place in Africa? or maybe something Science Fiction? For me coming up with ideas is always easiest when I start with a character or a setting and let them take control. But you could also use brainstorming for this step.

Write down every idea you’ve ever thought of writing about on a post it note and hang them all on one wall. Give yourself some room around each of them to add in extra ideas related to it. You can be neat and orderly about this step and put them in rows and columns or you can be more free form and arrange them like giant thought bubbles covering the walls of your room.

The more ideas you come up with, the easier it will be to NOT write that novel, so really spend months on this step thinking through every possible rendition of each character, setting, genre, and climax. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity to write that best selling novel. We all know how critical the idea is. It must be perfect before you ever write a word.

Second, you either need to outline it so that you know everything that will happen from beginning to end or you need to face facts that you are indeed a “pantser”. There’s nothing wrong with being a pantser no matter how many derogatory things you’ve heard before. As a matter of fact it will help you in your journey to NOT write the novel, so I will encourage you to give pantsing a go even if you’ve never tried it before.

Third, now that you have that great idea and have decided on an approach, you need to set up a Facebook and Twitter account for the novel so that you can keep your eager fans notified of the progress you are making on it. This step is very important in NOT writing your novel. The more social media accounts you can set up, the better. You might even want to set up a blog dedicated to the novel as well to give potential readers even more in depth knowledge of the novel they will never be able to read.

Fourth, create a daily schedule to follow. Spend almost as much time on this step as you did on the initial idea phase so that you are certain you can get this novel done. Make sure you use fifteen minute time slots or less so that you can schedule in potty breaks and pencil sharpening and that next text to Twitter. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to promote your non-existent novel. Don’t forget to include scheduling when to let the dog out to pee, time to decide on what you will fix for supper, those precious moments when the cat demands attention, checking the mail to see if you have more bills to worry about paying, and phone calls from telemarketers. (we all know they call at supper time, so you might as well include them in your schedule)

Fifth, set up your writing space. You will want a dedicated area for this to happen. If possible, build on another room to your house so that you will have complete control over any interruptions to your daily writing schedule that you spent so much time creating. This can be as simple as a discarded refrigerator box with a large floor pillow. (I would resist the urge to cut out a window flap. The cat will just find it and play with it all day long.) Or, if you are planning to be a full time novelist like Stephen King or Agatha Christie you could build an entire writing studio at the back of your property. The choices are endless so spend as much time as you can getting it right.

The most important part about it is that you have all of your essentials arranged just so on or near your desk. Go on a special shopping trip (or two or three) to make sure the pencil holder (that you don’t use because you actually type everything into your computer) matches the decor of your room perfectly. You will need a coffee mug or two as well. These should have quotes from your favorite authors on them and should give you inspiration for the novel you’re not writing. Extra points if you find one that matches the decor of your writing space to hold your pencils.

Sixth, speaking of coffee, you will need to have as much as possible of this nectar of the gods at your disposal twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You will not be working on your novel that much, right? Find a local gourmet coffee shop that sells bulk coffee from around the world, if possible. Make sure you plan several day trips a month to the coffee shop if for no other purpose than to soak in all those fabulous aromas around you in the store and sample their daily offerings.

Seventh, now that you have an idea, a method of working, a schedule, a place to work, and all the essential coffee you will need, sit down and open your word processor on your computer. Type the title and chapter at the top of the page. Then you will need to check your schedule. It will probably be time to check in with facebook by now and give an update. So take care of that. And while you’re on social media, you might as well check your notifications and reply to anyone who’s replied to you or made comments. I’m certain by now your cat or dog or two year old has done something cute as well, so you might as well post that too. Your fans will think that you are human by posting those kind of details and so relate to your writing even more.

Eighth, refill your coffee mug and while you’re up you might as well take a pee break even thought it isn’t scheduled for another half hour. Your bladder can’t read a schedule after all.

Ninth, fix yourself something to munch on while writing. This might be a bowl of nuts or chips or maybe a hot pocket. Better still, a warm gooey cinnamon roll sounds perfect with your hot mug of coffee. So a trip to the store is in order. While you’re there you can get the grocery shopping done for the week. It’s not scheduled until tomorrow but you’ll be ahead if you go ahead and do it now.

Continue this pattern for the next ten or twelve years and you will NOT write your novel. Easy Peasy.

Life is Too Short, Eat Dessert First

We rolled into the room like a bookingdotcom commercial. Tired, hungry, shoeless, bags draped everywhere.

Inside we piled coats, suitcases, backpacks in corners and on the one chair and opened the french doors onto the world of Bourbon Street. It was barely noon. A tinny heartbeat of drums throbbed against the brick buildings of the street as music spilled everywhere.

We smiled, reveled a minute at our choice.

Only one moment in life does a person turn twenty-one. A moment that should be remembered for eternity.

We are not ordinary people. We don’t crave things, belongings, enormous houses, expensive cars, manicured lawns. We don’t seek to find what others have.

We crave life. Memories. Experience. Jumping in head first, immersing ourselves in the adventure.

It’s the adventure that satisfies our souls like an air conditioned room on an August day in Texas.

And NOLA has adventure by the piles. Long dead crawfish, stale beer, cigarettes, deep fried something or other, vomit, disinfectant sprayed by the street cleaners early in the morning, … and coffee percolating through snippets of jazz and rap and rock and blaring from the bars, flowing from the buskers, interrupted by sirens and horns and someone laughing a bit too loud. A night of revelry for hundreds, maybe thousands, punctuated by the droning microphoned monotonous voice of a street preacher calling for repentance a thousand times over.

Thank God for ear plugs at four in the morning.

And because life is too short to not eat dessert first, supper was powder sugared beignets at the Cafe du Monde where we didn’t stand in a line at eight o’clock at night.

I miss it and I haven’t been home twelve hours yet.

Funny.

When I was in high school I took a test to see what I was suited to be when I grew up. My result, which ticked me off at the time, was that I should be an adventurer and explorer. My image of Marco Polo or Christopher Columbus was not what I wanted to do, or thought I wanted to do. But somehow, life has a way of defining itself.

The year I turned twenty-one I changed my world. I set out to travel as much as I could. To experience the world and everything it had to offer. I was in 18 air ports, 8 states, and 6 countries that year alone. If I’d only figured out how to make that my life …

 

Whispers

When I was in Girl Scouts, how ever many hundreds of years ago that was, we played a game called gossip. We would sit in a circle and one person would whisper something into another person’s ear and they would pass it on likewise until the person at the other end said it out loud.

No matter what was said in the beginning, it never came out the same at the end.

I suppose it was supposed to teach us that anything we hear as gossip is unreliable. But honestly, I think it just taught us to whisper better.

Today I apparently caused a chain reaction event that culminated twelve hours later in a complete and dramatic implosion of someone’s volunteer “work”. But … I didn’t really cause it. The chain of events caused it. Their inability to “let it go” caused it.

I have been part of something called the “Art of Criticism” project. It is no longer. As someone in the know told me, the art of criticism project is no longer ultimately because the people in charge of the art of criticism project couldn’t take criticism.

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Here, we’ll teach you how to critique others … but don’t you dare critique me.

Really???

The whole thing came down to a dramatic interpretation of a game of gossip. What came out at the end had nothing to do with where it started. A badly worded email …

You’d think a writer would be able to craft an email that said what the writer meant … But then there is that whole human thing. Mistakes. Emotions. Overreacting. Drama. Headache.

Yes, sweetie pie, even adults give in to that. If you think cat fights between teenage girls are bad … you should see them between a bunch of women on an internet forum. Toss in a couple of perfectionist men and it’s all over but the count down. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-…

And I’m being asked for my side of the story … I don’t even have a side to the story. I was sent an email and responded to it. That’s it. That’s where my story ends. What happened after that, … who knows but it had nothing to do with me.

I’m sure the whispers will prevail, bold, unabashed … and completely and totally wrong. Okay.

So what makes us so susceptible to things like gossip? Whispering in the coat room? Juicy tid-bits that belong in a grocery store rag? Why do we ever believe them?

Life is too short. And unfair. And stupid. And filled with unexpected hiccups along the way. Quit whispering behind the lockers and speak up. Be heard. Say your peace. Believe with your heart. Open your mind. Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

 

Well, After All, Who Can Compete With a Sponge?

I have a habit of reading the news on my tablet before I get up in the morning. Since I don’t watch the evening news on tv, it’s my way of staying connected to the world. My favorite part about it is reading stories from multiple sources, just to see if the information changes. Sometimes it does, other times not.

This morning I was perusing what has become the norm of late – stories of terrorists, bizarre murder suicides, Bruce Jenner’s latest adventures, etc … when I stumbled across the headlines “New Spongebob Movie edges out American Sniper to win Box Office sales”.

It made me laugh.

For the past few weeks my newsfeed on Facebook has been inundated with posts about American Sniper, which I personally found annoying. I have not seen it and have no intentions of seeing it and find it offensive that I’m being told repeatedly that if I don’t go see it and support it that I’m somehow less of an American.

Sorry, but no.

As I skimmed past all of these posts, I reminded myself that it would blow over, like all things. The thought kept me from pulling my hair out and responding to someone in a negative way.

So this morning when I read that Spongebob was now the new American sweetheart at the box office, I had to laugh. Sure enough the American Sniper hype was blowing over. It was blown over by a cartoon of a sponge.

It seems a fickle world we live in. And yet, I think, it shows what a complex world we live in and how complex the human mind really is. We switch our loyalties from this to that in rapid succession. We embrace war and cartoons and elevate both to positions of honored status.

Andy Warhol once said that everyone will have fifteen minutes of fame. What a wise man he was. A visionary, not just because of his art, but because of what he conveyed through his art. Like all artists, he made a statement about the world. He saw universal truth.

But I have to wonder what he would think about a cartoon sponge having fifteen minutes of fame.

“Absorbent and yellow and porous is he” …

Aren’t we all Spongebob? Aren’t we all.

It’s All a Great Big Facade

My daughter is 17. Funny, laid back, easy going, personable. She makes friends easily and socializes without a thought.

At least that’s what people think.

She’s in a virtual charter school and they do all of their classes online. They have lessons that are computer driven as well as live classes through a conferencing program. Honestly, it’s a pretty cool deal that I wish I’d had as a student.

The problem with it is everything is very … limited. At least in perspective, that is. Her teachers only “see” what she interacts with them during their 30 minute sessions once a week, and then through assignments she turns in. That’s it.

But they have NO idea what goes on behind the scenes.

Early on we knew that she needed to have a solid organizational system if she was going to get everything done in her courses. So we developed one together. And when she uses it, it’s great. Problem is, she doesn’t use it most of the time so she doesn’t get her work done so I’m spending hours helping her over the weekend to catch up.

But her teachers don’t know that.

This week, after one more excuse and lying to me that she’d “really really tried” on a simple assignment that she’d read 2 out of 16 pages on, I took a stand and laid down the law. And I informed her teachers of it.

LOLOLOL

Two of her teachers insisted that she was doing perfectly in their classes and they saw no problems whatsoever. One of them was adamant that she was brilliant and sailing through her class with no issues at all.

Of course it’s The ONE class where I have to repeat every single lesson because my daughter has no clue what she’s doing and can not comprehend the online lessons as they are written. I have to explain everything in a different way to her because the presentations that they use are horrid for her learning style.

Sigh.

It all reminds me of just how little we know about another person based on a few words here and there, a smile in passing, a thirty minute conversation, a class once a month. It’s all just surface dirt, really.

So much of who we are is not on display for the world to see, and yet the world perceives who we are based on the snippets of information that they receive. And then we turn around and think about ourselves based on what others say … even though they don’t really know us at all …

No wonder depression is rampant in our society.

It isn’t bad media, or violent programming, or non attention by the medical community, or whatever else may be blamed this month. It all boils down to what we believe about ourselves.

If we base those beliefs solely on what others think of us, we are going to be mislead somewhere along the line. Because no matter how perceptive someone else is, if they only have bits and pieces of our lives to work from, they don’t know who we are or what we are capable of.

Nor can we look at someone else and understand them in the same regards.

Which all goes back to what I’ve said before, many times over … promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate and the world will be a better place.

Be kind to yourself. You are your own best friend … or your own worst enemy. Love is the better path.

Small Blessings (or the avoidance of poo)

Yesterday, as I went out front to help my husband de-clutter our mini-van, I stepped out on our deck, avoiding the pile of bird doo from our resident doves that needed shoveled. It was raining heavily and had been for several hours by this point. And it was cold.

Almost imperceptively my foot slipped and I did what I can only describe as a slow motion back splat. I knew I was falling, but before I could react to that knowledge, I was already staring into the gray sky as it piddled down on me.

And then I heard the unmistakable sound of cooing.

Despite my now throbbing knee, screaming back, soaking wet clothes, and panting lungs, I tipped my head enough to see the residents both perched high in the eaves over my head, black little eyes staring down.

And then that thought ran through my head. “I hope they don’t poop.”

They didn’t, by the way. Thankfully. Perhaps they knew that the world had already dealt me a blow and laid me out for the day. Who knows.

Whatever, I was grateful for the small blessing at that moment.

I’d say things like that don’t happen often. That small blessings are few and far between. But the reality is they aren’t few and far between and they do happen often.

We just don’t stop to see them.

Perhaps that’s what the universe was trying to tell me. I need to stop and see the blessings in whatever form they come. Big. Small. And everywhere in between.