Coping Strategies for Today’s World

In light of our changing world as of tomorrow, I offer this repost from a few years back:

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” -Alan W. Watts

I believe this quote from Alan W. Watts is the absolute truth. The operative words are “engaged,” “here and now,” and “play.” I am well aware that I am the happiest when I am present in the moment and neutral with my thoughts, regardless of what I’m doing, whether it’s scrubbing the bathtub, writing a short story or listening to a friend’s thoughts and concerns. Present without preoccupation seems to me to be the key. This is not easy to achieve and I must admit I’ve spent many years letting my thoughts carry me to places while my body was somewhere else. Otherwise engaged, would be the description that comes to mind. Allowing negative thoughts to contaminate a perfectly innocent moment. That is the opposite of being present; it’s being mentally absent.

Now I often shift to a neutral place in my mind while I am engaged in my activities. I shoo away negative thoughts if I have them by reminding myself that at this very moment in this place all is well and I am fine. This helps me to get focused on my task at hand. Also, I remember that in Morita Therapy, the primary focus is to do what needs to be done. When I am feeling unhappy because of something that is not in the present time, then I remind myself that I need to get on with whatever needs to be done and I can think about my unhappiness later. Often, that later never comes since I have shifted my focus and I have moved beyond the problem. If the problem still looms, at least I’ve given myself a respite so that I can consider solutions with a clear mind.

When I am completely focused on a task, then often it is fun. Not the “Wow, this is hilarious” sort of fun, but rather a relaxed, “Who knew I could enjoy doing this so much?” sort of fun. When in doubt about this concept, just go hang out with a 3-year-old and watch them play. My grand-daughter Luna will start to play with her blocks, get totally focused and then burst out in spontaneous song. That is the very definition of fun.

Shifting from a mindset of work to play adds another dimension to the mix. Playing is simply more fun than work on any given day and by reframing one’s experience, it makes sense that happiness will come more easily when thinking fun and not work. I am aware that when Ray and I work on an estate for clients, I often find myself thinking, “I love doing this. It’s fun.” That also happens when I am writing or teaching writing. I may have to work up to thinking cleaning the toilet is fun, but I can at least be fully engaged in that activity and in the here and now. There is satisfaction that comes with a job well done (a clean toilet in this case) so I do recognize the benefit of keeping life simple and one’s mind clear.

“Be here now” as Ram Dass is famous for saying is the bottom line. Be here right now. Not off in your head to parts unknown. Keep mind and body in the same place at the same time and stay focused on the present. Of course there are exceptions to this. I immediately think, “Well, that wouldn’t work if you were being tortured,” but then again, most of us are not in that sort of situation. In that case, I believe it would be preferable to high-tail it out-of-town with present reality and head to somewhere more pleasant in one’s head. However, most of us are not in life and death situations. For the most part, we are all working hard to understand how to feel happy on a consistent basis. I believe Alan Watts’s words provide that guidance.

Talk tomorrow.

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Babies Here!

Nico and Luna are here spending the night with us tonight.  Luna and I made an agave-sweetened apple raisin pie this evening while Nico played with toys from his toy drawer in the kitchen. The pie was delicious. Then we settled back and watched Zootopia – my second time  – and I must say that it’s a clever and well-told story.

Luna had a bath while Nico slept and the Nico woke up while Luna and I read books.  Luckily, they both dropped off to sleep fairly quickly after the fourth book.

Now the house is quiet and everyone is asleep.  I think I better follow soon or else I’ll be tired when two little tots pop out of bed bright and early.

Spending time with these two little people is one of the highlights of my life. I feel exceedingly lucky to live this close and have such access. This time together definitely makes my world a brighter place.

Sleep well, my friends.  I’ll check back in tomorrow.

Luna as Lt. Judy Hopps from Zootopia at Halloween

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Organization Day

Today I carved out a little office for myself.  I have had one in the past, but over the last several months, I’ve spent 100% of my work time sitting in a big wingback chair in my den.  That’s so I could see students, who could settle on the couch across from me during our sessions.  This is still the location of my student work, but I am hopeful to return to my own writing beginning this week so I need a spot where I can settle in.  I have music, a good lamp, clean surfaces and my favorite books nearby. That’s about all I need, oh, and a comfortable chair.  Yes, that’s fairly critical too.  The music, good light and a spot that is just MINE are the primary criteria, however.  Alas, I am now sitting listening to the radio – KCRW – and feeling good about whittling out my space.  Ray was very helpful.  He came right in and moved things that were in my way, found a good radio/CD player and even suggested the lamp.  He’s good about that sort of thing and I appreciate his positive attitude very much.  Now I am sitting in my little spot, writing. That was the point, after all.

While getting organized, I sorted through at least the first of my books and actually felt all right about parting with a few.  I am not usually inclined to let favorite books leave my surrounds, but these fell in the “I could find this in the library if I really wanted to see it again,” category.  That is not the case with all my John Rechy books since he was my writing mentor or a whole slew of classics that just bring me comfort to have near me.  Yes, books feel like old friends whose proximity helps me to breathe better.  I have a Kindle and I do read from it, but having books with real pages in them nearby unkinks my neck muscles and helps my to feel connected to a bigger world out there, even if I’m holed up in a small office.

Tomorrow, I meet with my writing friend to outline my writing goals for 2017.  After that, Ray and I will head over to Train Town for a rendezvous with daughter Sarah and two favorite little people, who will be returning home with us for an overnight stay.  While I enjoyed my time in Salt Lake City, I would not be completely truthful if I didn’t admit that I started feeling a bit homesick for my little ones while there.  Nothing like Grandma time with a 3 1/2 and a 1 year old. Ray and I are already excited.

On that note, I am headed to bed.  The only questionable decor choice in my new writing space is a mirror to my left right at eye-level. I have scared myself twice glancing over and seeing an extremely tired looking woman staring back. A combination of jet lag and book lugging.

I’ll check by in again tomorrow.

Here’s a view of my bookshelf filled with my old friends…

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To Daughter Liz on Her Birthday

 

Thirty-one years ago today, I gave birth to my beloved second child, Elizabeth, in the master bedroom of our home in Denison, Texas.  I had the help of two midwives; Ray; my best friend, Patricia Butler; and my 3 1/2 year-old daughter, Sarah, over that long night. Sarah had the calmest demeanor in the room as she sat perched next to me on the side of the bed, looking deep into my eyes as I did my breathing through each contraction.  “You’re doing a good job, Mommy,” she’d say after I did my cleansing breath. (I suspect this was the birth of her future career as a physician, who now helps many women during childbirth.)

Little Elizabeth arrived in the early morning hours with a shock of dark brown hair and a pretty pink body, weighing in at 6 lbs. 12 oz. and measuring 19 inches long.  She and Sarah curled up next to each other almost immediately and fell fast asleep since both were tired after all that labor. They have been deeply bonded ever since.

The minute Liz learned to talk, she asked one question after another about life and people and how things worked and just everything in general.  We soon saw that she possessed one of those quick, analytical minds that could organize and sort information in a flash and come up with ideas and solutions. She started Montessori at age three because she wanted to be with her big sister and though her teacher had to explain that she couldn’t have a snack just when she wanted it but rather at “snack-time,” she soon was zipping along, learning everything in sight.  When she was in second grade, we homeschooled her for one year and I was struck with her little sponge of a mind that could absorb information with a level of ease that was noteworthy. She literally covered two grades in one year and when we put her back in public school, I lobbied hard for her to skip a grade.  I found a willing principal, and Liz has never looked back. She finished her Bachelor’s at USC in three years, a Master’s degree in Anthropology in two, a law degree in two, and then passed the California Bar on her first try.  Yes, a ready and absorbent mind at work!

But even though Liz’s thinking ability is impressive, it’s really her personality that makes her the stand-out person that she is. She loves to laugh, has a bawdy sense of humor (Thanks, Ray) and possesses an enthusiasm for life that makes her open to trying all sorts of new adventures.  From archeological digs in Ecuador and Belize to hiking a trail along the Pacific Coast to taking a two month driving trip with boyfriend Ron all across the country to spending ten days in Alaska working with Habitat for Humanity, Liz likes to experience what life has to offer. Her organizational skills extend to trip-planning and she figures out how to make the most of her free time. She has been to Peru, Thailand and Europe and right this minute is returning from a ski trip in Utah. Yes, she’s a young woman on the move. Not to mention that she is kind and absolutely to be counted on as both a daughter, sister, friend or worker. Plus, she has an interesting artistic bent and has taken lots of ceramics and other classes at the Barnsdall Art Center.

I know this sounds like any proud mother crowing about her sweet daughter (and it is),  but there’s a bit more here, at least from my point-of-view. I have watched as Liz has tackled life from day one and how she has navigated through the obstacles she has faced. She is a friend through thick and thin, is loyal almost to a fault, and is one of the people who I’d trust to fight just about any cause worth fighting for.  She has a keen sense of social justice and Katie-bar-the-door if you get between someone and their civil rights. She has a voice and she knows how to use it.

I suppose I’m saying that Liz gives me hope for this world.  She, along with her big sister, Sarah, and little sister, Rachael, join a whole group of smart, able young people who believe in the importance of equality, fairness and justice.  They will stand strong and tough and use their voices as they move forward for all the principles upon which our country is based. I feel heartened by them and the people with whom they share their lives.

I love you, sweet Elizabeth.  You are colorful, full of life and have one of the most infectious laughs on the planet.  Thanks for joining me in this life.  You have a real knack for making every day a lot more interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

To Lee

  • My first cousin Lee Leatherwood has his birthday today. He is five days older than I am and we lived no further than five blocks apart from the day we were born until we graduated from high school and then only a quarter of mile away from each other during our freshman year at UT. After that I transferred to the University of Utah to live near my sister Leslie and we only saw each other intermittently until we joined an Internet group for people sharing stories about our hometown in the late 1990’s. (Ar least I think that was when it was.) Since then, we have been in near daily contact via the Internet and have also made special trips to see each other.
  • Lee and I share a similar take on the world, both socially and politically, and we also have a deep love and respect for family.  We also share a similar sense of humor and a deep love for literature and writing. Needless to say, Lee and Len Leatherwood are bonded.
  • We look like Mutt and Jeff, Lee being tall and blond and me being short and brunette. He is light and I am dark and he is a drinker and I am tea-totaler. He loves sports and I barely know which team is which. But regardless of our differences, we share enough history and connection to overcome where we don’t overlap. Most importantly, we both share a deep and abiding love for my little brother, Sam.
  • It is a treat to have someone so close to join my walk through life. Someone with whom I share so much history.
  • Thank you, Lee, for your presence and love. I am lucky to have you! (I happen to love Elaine as well, which is an extra bonus.) Happy birthday, my friend.

Honey-Sweetened Banana Cream Pie for Liz’s Birthday Celebration

Tomorrow we will be celebrating Liz’s 31st birthday, which is officially Monday, before Ray and I head back to LA late tomorrow afternoon.  (Liz and Ron will stay through Monday when our Utah family will all go skiing and snowboarding with them.)  I will be making Liz’s favorite dessert for the festivities.  This is a honey-sweetened banana cream pie.

Here is the recipe for a dessert that is one of all of my children’s favorites:

Honey-Sweetened Banana Cream Pie

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 bananas

Separate egg yolks into small bowl, stir to break yolks and set aside. In sauce pan whisk honey, cornstarch and milk together. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until boiling. Turn down heat and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and add 1 spoonful at a time of the pudding mixture to the egg yolk, mixing completely between each addition. When egg yolk mixture is warm add it to sauce pan. Return to heat and stir constantly until it boils one minute.

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla.

Cool until lukewarm.

Slice bananas into cooked pie shell. Pour lukewarm pudding over and refrigerate.

Serve with additional whipped cream if desired.

This is one of those desserts that can be served warm or cold.  The whipped cream makes it even tastier and prettier.

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Happy Birthday, Little Nico!

Here’s to a happy 1st birthday for my little grandson, Nico. He went on a hike with his mom, dad and sister and spent most of it snuggled up on daddy’s shoulder, sleeping.

This little guy is so full of sweetness and love, it’s hard to even describe the joy he brings to the lives of his grandma and grandpa.  We both have fallen completely in love with his big grin and warm hugs.

The pure love between him and his big sister, Luna, is also a source of real happiness. His little face just lights up when Luna walks in the room and hers shines with love.

I didn’t realize the best part of being a grandparent would be to have the opportunity to witness (and experience) such purity of emotion.

Thank you, Sarah and Gregorio, for the gift of this darling little boy and of his sister.  Their presence (and yours) graces our lives.  We are deeply grateful.

Nico and his Daddy on his 1st Birthday Hike

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Luna and her Mama

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Nico, Mid-Birthday Hike

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Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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