Thursday, March 8, 2018

Stay Tuned--While I Attempt to Stay in Tune

So, those of you who have followed this blog for a while or who have read my book, "Finding My Badass Self," may recall my singing lesson fiasco. My singing career didn't end on the fabulous note I always dreamed about. My instructor's evaluation: "Well, you're very LOUD."

I've often regretted not giving singing another shot. So--why wait any longer?

I just had a conversation with the music director from my high school. I never took a single music class or participated in choir, but she remembered me mostly because I dated her stepson--and she just finished reading my book.

Mrs. Mackey has offered to give me singing lessons. Against her better judgment--and surely against mine--I agreed.* We start next week.

Dear Lord. What have I gotten myself into?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Living On

While a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my father, he is foremost in my thoughts during the month of March. It’s a month filled with many meaningful dates.

March 1 marks my parents’ wedding anniversary: They would have been married 60 years today.

March 2 is my dad’s birthday: He would have turned 81. An inconceivable concept.

And, he passed away on March 13, 1990, at the far too young age of 53. It’s been 28 years since cancer robbed Denny—and the rest of us—of what could have and should have been.

While we didn't get to live out his golden years with him, I'd like to believe my father lives on, forever, somewhere. I envision him doing his crossword puzzles, drinking wine, and playing some amazing golf on a perpetually green and golden course.

Tonight, I raise my glass and wink at him.

How do you choose to remember loved ones whom you've lost? Any memories you'd like to share to carry on their legacy?

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Long-Overdue Thank You

Over the past six months, I've enjoyed doing lots of speaking gigs and meeting with several small book groups. But the group of women I visited yesterday was particularly special: It included Miss Elizabeth Papps, my A.P. English teacher when I was a senior at Bowsher High School in Toledo.

A woman named Mary Dedes, mother of several Bowsher graduates, visits the Sunset House every Sunday to read to a group of the center's residents. The women are currently reading "Finding My Badass Self," and after they learned I was a Bowsher graduate and that Miss Papps remembered me, Mary invited me to join them for the afternoon.

It was such a joy to talk with these ladies, most of whom are in their eighties. Their many questions and fabulous insights proved, once again, that it's never too late to enjoy what life has to offer.

In addition, it also gave me a long-overdue opportunity to personally thank Miss Papps for introducing me to so many amazing works of classic literature. Her enthusiasm and her love of books has remained with me--nearly 40 years later.

And a special note to any fellow Bowsher graduates: If you remember Miss Papps as fondly as I do, I'm sure she'd be thrilled to hear from you. I hope you'll consider writing her to say thank you or to just say hello. Her address is: Miss Elizabeth Papps, Sunset House, 4020 Indian Rd, Toledo, OH 43606.

Nearly all of us have had a couple wonderful teachers who have influenced our life forever. Having the chance to thank them is a terrific feeling.

I'm pretty certain it's not a half-bad experience for them, either.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Of Kindness and Compassion

Sammy (on the left) and his brother, Snoopy, in the early days
I lost another member of my fur family this week. Those of you who have loved and lost a pet understand how difficult it always is.

A few years ago, a friend referred me to her coworker, Katie, a teacher who pet-sits on the side. Katie's amazing care of my menagerie has enabled me to enjoy all of the traveling I've done for adventure, research, and book promotion.

After my other cat, Cubby, and Ringo the Wonder Retriever were both diagnosed with terminal illnesses in the past month, I told Katie I was putting the rest of my book tour on hold. Because this past weekend's events were pre-planned and all the animals seemed stable, I told her I felt confident taking this one last weekend trip.

But Katie called me on Sunday, when I was two hours from home, to tell me Sammy had unexpectedly gone into distress. She offered to take him to the emergency vet. Based on his condition, we both knew how that would likely end--yet, if necessary, she was willing to handle this surely agonizing appointment. When she reassured me that she didn't think he was in much pain, we decided to wait until I got home so I could take him myself. (The vet later told me confidently that the lapsed time would not have made a difference in the final outcome.)

When I got home, I found Katie sitting next to Sammy on my living room floor. She had covered him with a blanket to keep him warm and comfortable. She had been sitting there, soothing him and talking to him, for two hours.

Kindness takes many forms in life. Sometimes it's a consoling comment from a Facebook acquaintance. Other times, it's a friend who goes above and beyond--as difficult as it may be in an emotionally challenging situation--because she is loving and giving and compassionate.

I am so grateful, and it has inspired me to try to be that kind of person.

Kindness and compassion may not solve all of the world's problems--but surely they are at least a major part of the equation.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Facing Fear: Reprise

I just came across this piece I wrote, just a few months into The 52/52 Project--the journey that would eventually become my book, Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares.

The message was something I made sure to emphasize in my book. But I believe this says it well:

My second voice lesson was scheduled for this evening. Unlike last week’s lesson, which focused on breathing techniques and scales, tonight I would actually have to sing. An entire song or two. By myself. In front of a near stranger.

Early this afternoon I got a call from my instructor. I felt a huge rush of relief when I heard her voice, certain she was calling to cancel. Instead, she said she had another commitment and wondered if I could come just a bit earlier. Rather than postponing or indefinitely cancelling this experience that I so dreaded, I’d be facing it a half-hour sooner. My stomach literally churned.

I relayed this story to a friend in my office.

“You should mention that on your blog and Facebook page,” she said.

I shrugged. “Hmm. OK, maybe.”

“No, I mean it. I think sometimes with your humor and your nonchalant quips, people don’t realize you’re actually afraid of some of these things you are doing.”

Really? Was this possible? In the snippets I've posted online, have I somehow come across far more carefree and courageous than I am? In the name of humor or a poignant story, have I minimized or even omitted the fears and anxiety that have accompanied several of these experiences?

As I’ve mentioned before, The 52/52 Project is about venturing outside my comfort zone. And with that, my friends, has come more than a bit of fear.

Sometimes it’s been manifested in small twinges of trepidation. Other times, I’ve felt a heaving sense of anxiety. Fear takes many forms, depending on its source and the particular situation.

Some of my experiences have entailed the fear of fear. Strange how you can talk yourself into being more afraid by focusing on how horrifying something is likely to be. Case in point: A Brazilian wax.

I’ve been terrified of the resulting repercussions. How could I protect myself on a police raid, if I suddenly found an escaping suspect’s gun aimed at me? As the SWAT team and vice squad stormed the front porch, it hardly seemed far-fetched. My blood pressure has never hiked so high.

I’ve feared failure, especially when an experience has involved my talents or skills—or lack thereof. My belly-dancing class was a hoot, in retrospect. But in the days leading up to the class, and in the midst of stepping right when everyone else was pivoting left, my frustration mounted. The fear of proving inept—and of being judged as inept by someone else—may be the primary factor that holds most of us back from trying anything new. I know it was the underlying reason behind my volatile stomach before tonight’s voice lesson.

Most of all, I’ve been afraid of not being able to follow through. When it finally comes down to it, will I truly be able to stand up on a stage and entertain a hundred people? I’ve gone over this scenario countless times: If my heart palpitations don’t kill me first, surely the stone-faced silence of the audience will. And what of the fear of not seeing this project through to the very end? Of not finishing the book I’m writing? Of not seeing it published?

Yet, with each new experience these past four months, I have grown braver. Just a touch. I shrug things off more easily now. I’ve learned I can endure some things I never before would have dreamed of facing. I doubt anyone ever becomes desensitized to the anxiety of going outside their comfort zone, but each success—and even each failure—has taught me I just might be capable of facing the next.

Any challenge is filled with ups and downs: a full array of emotions. Those include fear. If we never feel afraid in life, we probably haven’t pushed ourselves far enough.

The fear of facing new life experiences, if we're fortunate, is ultimately replaced by a sense of self-satisfaction and joy. And even if we fail, maybe we succeed simply by trying.

I have doubted myself and felt afraid through many steps along this journey..

But I’m afraid I also have never, ever had so much damn fun.

What are you most fearful of? Have you ever talked yourself into being afraid? What was the most frightening experience of your life that turned out far better than you anticipated?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Finding My Badass Self--In All Kinds of Places

Finding "Finding My Badass Self" next to Sedaris never gets old.
It continues to amaze me that Finding My Badass Self, the crazy little book I envisioned primarily as humor, often is not found in a library or bookstore’s humor section at all. It’s frequently shelved under memoir/biography or—surprisingly—under self-help.

In fact, Badass Self is listed tonight on Amazon as the #15 bestseller in “self-help/midlife.” Huh.

I’ll take that ranking, gladly. Why argue with sales?

Sure, several readers and friends have said my journey and words have inspired them to venture outside their own comfort zones. Some have embarked on their own “unbucket lists.” And, three women told me that by realizing the status quo isn’t always what we want or need, they finally found the courage to leave an unhappy relationship.

But many other readers have simply said they enjoyed laughing with me—and often at me. I’m OK with that, too.

When I first started visiting bookstores and libraries that had the book shelved under “self-help,” I wanted to correct that. But maybe a book doesn’t have to be pigeon-holed into one category. Maybe it can cross genres. Perhaps it offers a bit of different things to different people.

Humor or inspiration? Who knows? You tell me.

If you’ve read “Finding My Badass Self,” what made you laugh most? And what inspired or helped you? What category would you shelve the book under, in your personal library?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Partridge Family Thanksgiving

In early December 2014, a group of friends and strangers joined me on a bar crawl in Milwaukee—on the Partridge Family Party Bus.

Sure, Keith Partridge and the rest of his television brood didn’t actually accompany us, but they were there in my heart—as they had remained ever since I was nine years old. Because I hadn’t been just a young teenybopper infatuated with David Cassidy. No, our relationship was SO much more.

When the Partridge Family came on the scene, I was first love-struck with the drummer, young Chris, who was closest to my age. But after Jeremy Gelbwaks was unceremoniously dropped after the first season and replaced by a different actor, I turned my attention and fully devoted my heart to David Cassidy.

Oh, David, how you made me swoon! Sure, you were a much older manchild, but you were everything I ever wanted as a fifth-grade girl. You were handsome, and sweet, and you sang to me every Friday night as if you knew me. I was sure, deep down, that you truly did.

Over the next few years, I bought every single Partridge Family album, plastered their posters over my bedroom walls, and joined their fan club. My favorite outfit at the time was a red jumper, just like Tracy Partridge wore in those early episodes. I spent hours in the basement of my family home, banging along on either a tambourine or on my sister’s cheap drum set as my favorite Partridge Family albums played on my cassette tape player.

And along the way, I envisioned my future with David Cassidy, as well as the rest of his fabulous, fabricated TV family.

When I look back on some of the happiest times of my life, they surely would include those preadolescent and carefree days of having David and The Partridge Family seem a part of my own family and my life.

And the music? Maybe it’s simply nostalgia or just maybe the music remains way underrated. All I know is I still appreciate the songs. I’ve kept a few Partridge Family CDs in my car and have listened to them long before I heard David was ill and possibly dying.

Childhood idols die, yet they live on in our hearts, in our memories, and sometimes in our music.

Today, when I listened to “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” I smiled as I remembered David Cassidy. I would have met him halfway, for sure. Hell, I would have traveled miles for the opportunity to tell him how I felt.

Thanks for everything, David.

Even after all these years, I think I love you.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Turn the Page

Over the past few months, I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries.

I remain in awe of the architecture, particularly in an older structure. I enjoy the helpful attitude and enthusiasm of the librarians—I mean, why wouldn’t they be enthused? They have the best job ever! And then, there’s the books. Oh, the shelves and shelves of books—a free bounty for our browsing and borrowing.

Several months ago, someone asked me about the books and authors who most influenced me as a writer. I named several, with ease: those that awakened the fledgling writer in me as an eight year old girl as well as the fiction writers, memoirists, and humor essayists who still inspire me now.

Yet this also prompted me to recall those books that first made me a reader, too: picture books, paperbacks ordered through my grade school Scholastic flyers, and early chapter books.

I remembered, particularly, a single moment of raw reader excitement. I was six or so, newly able to tackle an early reader independently. On one of my weekly trips with my mother to the library, I checked out a book at the librarian’s suggestion. When we returned the following week, I told the librarian how very, very much I loved it.

She walked with me to the children’s section and pointed to a shelf. Waving her hand, she noted that it was just one of an entire series by the same author. I stared, wide-eyed, at a dozen or so books lined up there, simply waiting for me to take them home and escape into their stories.

It may have been one of the most joyous moments of my life.

For months, I have tried to remember the name of the author or the title of the book series. I knew it was about a family with a last name beginning with B. That’s all I could recall. After all, I had been only six or seven the last time I read one. I searched online, but with little else to go on, it was a futile quest.

Last week, out of nowhere, it suddenly came to me.

I discovered the books were no longer in print, so I ordered a couple from an online used book site.

When they arrived in mail, I picked one up. I brushed my fingers over the pebbly hard cover. I opened it up and paged through. And then, I instinctively sniffed the pages.

Within seconds, the musty book smell returned me to my childhood library, 50 years ago.

When I was little, I believed the library was the most magical place in the world.

Some things never, ever change.

Is there any better smell than that of an old library book? What are your most beloved childhood books?