Monday, October 31, 2011

Barely fiction

My sister told me about a novel writing contest, of sorts, that is supposed to begin in November. I cheated and started writing some stuff a couple of days ago. More than anything else, I wanted to see how long 2,000 words/day is (to get to 50,000 words in a month). Pretty darn long! Here's the website describing the contest:

My sister told me one "rule" is no editing, or minimal editing. Turn off the editor, and just write!
Here's one of the stories I wrote. I found that I didn't have a novel just waiting to be written down, as of yet, but I do have plenty of stories that I can just lift from my daily life. So I'm doing that at the moment. I must admit this has not been refined by an editor's gentle touch -- it's quite rough around the edges, so be forewarned.

She wanted to hug them all and not miss any of them, even though they were all hot and sweaty from the dancing. It had been such a fun evening, such a contrast to her first impression of this place as a fortress, seeing the tall fences surrounding the compound that was these girls’ temporary home. These fences were designed to keep everyone in. The last time she had seen such high fences was at a jail. They made her want to run away before she got trapped inside them, too.

It was the annual Halloween celebration at the Methodist Girls’ Home. Though her husband’s men’s group put it on, she always came out to give the girls a little attention from another woman, some smiles, maybe even some hope in their lives.

These girls were here as one stop in what could become a revolving-door life, where nothing was secure and no relationships were lasting, not even the crucial ones with Mom and Dad. These girls all had faced serious parental issues before being removed from their homes and brought here. Some had parents who were serious drug users. Others had been abused or neglected. Most of them had siblings who had been placed elsewhere.

Here they all were, these teenage girls, some on the verge of adulthood. What kind of prospects did they face? The chances of getting adopted were slim indeed at their advanced ages. They could hope for a loving foster family, but going down that path guaranteed that their lives would continue in an uncertain, changing direction. Others would be reunited with their families, if the potential for harm was judged to be not too terrible.

Sheila thought of her own two teenage sons and the drama that was already embedded in their lives, just from the raging hormones that made their behavior so inconsistent, and the built-in ups and downs of high school relationships. The last thing anybody needed at that age was an unstable family life.

The dancing felt so good. Everyone relaxed and just had fun trying to learn the steps of a few line dances without running over their nearest neighbor. Some of the guys in the men’s group weren’t so young anymore, and they danced – hobbled might be the more accurate word, she had to admit – on the fringes of the girls. Her husband, charming as always, was dancing in the midst of a group of girls who were all helping him learn the moves.

One young girl was clearly the best dancer of the group, and the natural leader. Sheila found herself watching her to see which direction to move, and mimicked her natural grace as she wove her body to the beat. It was a little difficult, dancing in the stuffy full-length Renaissance dress that trailed the floor and threatened to trip her at every turn. But dressing up had been part of the fun. Maybe these girls didn’t get to dress up for Halloween, but Sheila and her husband could wear costumes for them.

One girl, wearing an old gray T-shirt and sweatpants, stood aside and didn’t dance at all. No one was making her dance. Sheila noticed her, apart and alone, the only still figure in the room.

Sheila had decided to sit with the girls, earlier, when they had pizza, sodas, and hot Cheetos for dinner. What a combination! Sheila’s stomach, always rather finicky, rebelled at the thought of this greasy, spicy and sugary combination. No wonder they wound up dancing so frantically – all the sugar, caffeine, and calories gave them lots of energy.

Using her Sunday school name, Sheila had introduced herself as Mrs. Monroe. The men had stayed back in the kitchen or brought drink refills, but no one else from the group sat with the girls while they ate. The girls were clearly interested in her and asked where she lived, what church she attended, and whether her husband was the man dressed up as a swashbuckling Renaissance man, which of course he was. She told them about her two sons and their ages, then said it was a good thing that the group eating pizza wasn’t a bunch of boys – they would have had to order twice as much food! The girls giggled and said, “Oh, there are some girls here who could eat a whole pizza for themselves.” But no one did. They ate their one or two pieces, chewing slowly, some of them dipping the slices in thick gobs of Ranch dressing. They seemed endlessly grateful for the meal, saying “thank you” over and over again.

After dinner, Sheila noticed as one girl after another went to receive some kind of medicines from an attendant. She could only speculate as to what the drugs might be – anti-narcotics? Anti-depressants? ADHD or bipolar meds?

The dancing drove these thoughts away, as Sheila and her husband focused on learning the steps of every line dance with the girls. After several songs had passed, the laughter got louder and the movement more chaotic. Sheila started feeling a little claustrophobic, surrounded by so many writhing young women. Looking around, she realized that she was the only visitor still dancing with the girls. Sheila gradually danced off to one side and backed herself away from the action, watching in awe along with the men’s group as the girls burned off some energy. They looked like they were having so much fun, enjoying the moment and setting aside their uncertain futures to just dance.

Afterwards, it was as though they were all fast friends. Each girl came up to everyone in the men’s group to thank them again for coming out. Sheila quickly decided to give these girls hugs, every one of them if they would allow her to. She wasn’t a masterful hugger the way some people at church were. It didn’t necessarily come naturally to her. But at this moment, she thought the greatest gift she could give these girls was a real hug. Even if she had to grab hold of a bunch of hot, sweaty, smelly bodies to do it. It was the closest way she could think of just giving them a little bit of the love that was otherwise so lacking in their young lives. If she could have handed them some hope to go with it, she would have.

But maybe that’s what the dancing was all about.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In a mystical groove

I am really enjoying my 10 mins daily of quiet contemplation. Amazing what a difference such a small amount of time can make. Here are things I am thinking of: bringing more awareness with me wherever I go, mysticism, presence and the spirit. Let the spirit lead, and be free to be your highest self! "I have been to the mountaintop. And I'm not afraid of anybody. I'm not worried about anything. Because I have seen the glory of the promised land!" (Dr. Martin Luther King, not an exact quote)

Did I mention both my boys will be in tuxes this weekend? It is Peanut Festival time here in our little town of Floresville, and I did not realize what a big deal it is for many high school seniors like my older son, who go to coronation and become dukes, duchesses, princes, and princesses for a short, magical span of time. Many go from there to the carnival, and we do pray that they change their outfit beforehand!

From a coronation to a carnival -- this is that sweet in-between time of being not quite an adult, but no longer a child anymore for these young people. Then they get to ride on floats or drive cars for the big small-town parade, all dressed to the hilt. Andrew is not a senior, but is attending a formal sweet-sixteen party that afternoon. I've got to take lots of pictures!

It is amazing and miraculous to see my sons, two people who are so much in the process of "becoming." I have to look closely at them each time I see them (which for Austin is not every day; he sleeps here, but we are on different schedules). I have to scan for the latest changes in their faces, their physique, their expressions of increasing maturity. The last time of such a rapid, wild ride was when they were toddlers! I believe we can all return there at any time in our lives and continue to change and grow dramatically, if that is what we earnestly desire.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In which I am mentioned, by name, on Zen and Tech podcast!

This is my exciting moment of the day ... first, a bit of background. I recently (as in less than a week ago) emailed the newly launched Zen and Tech podcast with a suggestion for a topic for them to cover. This podcast is about making use of technology to destress your extremely busy life ... more, it's practical suggestions from a licensed therapist on how to live more in the moment and start some daily practices to slow yourself down. Actually, you don't require any technology besides whatever device you are using to tune into the podcast itself. Otherwise, I wouldn't get much out of it! Here's their intro: "ZENandTECH, hosted by Georgia and Rene Ritchie, helps you center your inner geek, deal with the stresses of a connected life, and nurture your superhero in training." The idea is that we can all be superheroes, to which I say, Amen!

Funny how several of my podcasts make use of the word "geek." There's a message in there somewhere.

My idea for the show came from Alan Watts, who I mentioned in the last post. I want you to listen for yourself, which is why I haven't revealed what my suggestion was.

Here's the amazing bit. First, I got a reply right away from the therapist who co-hosts the show, Georgia, in which she gushed about how much she loved my idea. I thought to myself, what a sweetheart! I guess she does this for everybody who submits a comment to make them feel encouraged and listened to.

Then today, I got another email from Georgia, and this time she said she used my idea for the most recent podcast, #18. Already!! I've never gotten such a quick response for anything. I guess she really did love the idea!

Here's the link. It plays on YouTube (ha, ha I was about to spell it utube; that's how much of a techie wizard I am!) but I always have it as audio on my podcast, and listen while driving to/from work. I don't know how to actually embed the image in my blog, sorry!

This link displays the current weekly podcast. But if you see this later and click on the link, search the previous podcasts till you find No. 18. That is, if you can figure out how! You can always go on iTunes to find the exact episode without having to subscribe.

At the end, Georgia mentions the idea for the podcast came from a reader ... "Oh, I forgot her name!" she continues. Then Rene Ritchie comes to the rescue and quickly looks up my email online. Yes, I know there are many, many Julia Smiths out there, but it was actually me, myself, moi!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Meditation journey

Cherished reader,
I want to share with you a bit about my brief experiences meditating (10 mins a day, probably 6 days/week for the past few weeks). See, I do mean brief! Short in time, and short in experience of practice. I wish to meditate every day, but some are so hectic that it's late in the evening when I realize I didn't have that quiet time. I don't force this time on myself when I am too tired, but leave it for the next day. This is something my soul has been yearning for, like a homing device that connects me to an essential self like a tether.

I may have mentioned that my little meditation ritual is to ask to come into God's presence, and then I try to wait. And be calm. And not think. However, every time there are many things to think of, and they course through my head in a rapid, jumbled succession. That's the "monkey mind" for you. Tonight, I caught myself several times thinking of what I would write about here! Though it may be quite worthwhile, planning a blog post is not the same as meditation!

My friend Karen has been urging me strongly to meditate for a long time now, and she's of course very happy I finally started. (Did I ever tell you she is an Enneagram Type 8, the leader/boss?) She usually does have good ideas for me, though I refused her latest book suggestion. Her word of advice on meditating was not to constantly judge my experiences or think, "I'm not making progress" or "I'm not doing it right"; rather, just to have these experiences. But how can I not judge? It's the most human thing to do. How else do we know where we are, and where we've been?

What is amazing is when the meditation goes to a deeper place than I usually inhabit. One early time, I was visited by our most wonderful dog, Sandy. She came right up by my right leg, just exactly her old self, wagging her tail with her trademark grin, and that doggy smell, with the scars of the spider bites on her back still, and I could sense her there very strongly. Her presence was so loving that I started crying, and that is how that meditation concluded. This is not something I consciously invoked, because I have remembered it several times since, and recalling it is not the same as her actual presence there with me in my meditative state. (Sandy died a few summers ago, of old age.) Austin says she was the best dog ever, and she is.

Tonight, I wondered what it would be like to be in God's presence. Then I began sensing a reunion of sorts. I was in someone's arms, crying inconsolably. However, my meditative self was observing from a distance and was not caught up in the raw emotion. Thank God! I saw that God was hugging and rocking me with a full-bodied, matronly form that was large and soft, and smelled of cigarette smoke. Yes, it was Mom! She was comforting me, or some iteration of me. Mom may have died, but she has never left. She would never abandon her children.

I am reading a little book that is collected from lectures and writings of Alan Watts called "Myth and Religion." He's one of my podcast "favorites," a British philosopher, Episcopalian priest, and scholar of Eastern religions who died in 1973 or so at around the age of 57. He had moved to the USA and taught at Harvard before moving to California. Reading him is making me still less fettered to any particular belief system. It feels strange, to be so unmoored. "What do I believe?" you ask. I know less and less any answer to that question. I do know I am tired of demagogues, those who "know" what they believe, and those who would label. I shake myself free of any such associations. Watts, by the way, is relentlessly critical of the church and how it seems to have led the opposite way of Christ's example. It's all about what you believe (are you in the Christian "club" or out of it?), and moral judgment, rather than caring for your fellow human being as an equal. Did Christ exact a creed from his own apostles before letting them follow him?

Some people find the greatest comfort in thinking that they know exactly what is true. They stand on the authority of the Bible, or some other thing, and proclaim it infallible and above human questioning. I find that avenue to be a trap that prevents me from seeking and growing. In the end, there is so much more that I do not know than what I do know. As Watts proclaims, he is no guru, and his most fervent wish is for all his "followers" to find their own ways and have no further need of his advice! Every authority we have here on earth is a fellow human being, just like you and me. Therefore (again Watts), no one has any authority that we have not given to them. You choose your own authority figures, who you will trust or obey or believe.

I also wanted to tell you that Andrew and I ran a 5K at Sea World on Saturday and both took first in our division, woo-hoo! Now, Andrew came in 6th in the race overall, whereas I was about 101 of 212 participants, but still won my division of women ages 41-50 (of whom there were a total of 10). This was a fabulous opportunity; the entry fee went entirely to their conservation fund, with free parking and admission to the park all day long. We stayed for the fright-fest which got rolling at 6 pm -- my legs were so tired after walking the whole park all day long! Andrew was the trouper and wanted to stay for the Frightful freaky forest (Frightmare? It used to be the Haunted Forest), which would have been a whole lot more scary if it had been dark.

Now for the cheater on the 5K: this was designed to be quite the recreational (vs. competitive) race. Why? Sea World had a variety of animals on display throughout the race route. Most sensible people pulled over to watch and enjoy all these creatures! Two boa constrictors, owls, penguins, Beluga whales vocalizing, even a sea lion on the back of a cart! However, Andrew and I raced right on past it all, with our eyes on the prize.

The last 5K I did was in April and I have not run since (I went out about 3 times before this race just to make sure I still knew how). I have been doing the elliptical and bike and weights at Anytime Fitness regularly, which is what pulled me through. So I was totally pumped about that success. I think my time was nearly the same as in April, when I came in 7th in my division at a SAWS run!

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